back to article Electron-to-joule conversion formulae? Cute. Welcome to the school of hard knocks

There are some things they don't teach you in college, as a Register reader explains in this week's instalment of tales from the On Call coalface. Our reader, safely Regomised as "Col", headed up the technical support team of a PABX telecom provider and installer back in the early 1990s. PABX, or Private Automatic Branch …

  1. Korev Silver badge
    Coat

    I'm pleased they got a handle on the door problem...

    1. saxicola

      The whole problem hinged on that simple fact.

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Coat

        The project would have been as dead as a doormouse without it...

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
          Angel

          You lot latched to this damn fast!

          1. adam 40 Silver badge

            Slam dunk! it was an open and shut case. I'm glad they got a lid on it....

            1. Insert sadsack pun here

              If Col hadn't found the solution the client would've been in a right jamb.

          2. SuperGeek

            Yale be surprised what a team can do!

    2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      I'm not mortise by this punnery!

  2. MiguelC Silver badge

    Once I stopped by a PFY trying to fix an user's Access application that had stopped generating email reports. He was at wit's end, having tried for hours everything he thought might possibly solve the problem. I nonchalantly asked the user if IT had done any upgrade that day. "Hm yes, they installed new printer drivers".

    Ah.

    After changing the default printer to PDF, the emails started once again being generated. It seems Access (at least the old version in this case) needs the printer driver to generate reports, even if they're not being actually sent to be printed.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      It wasn't just Access. Excel didn't like it if it couldn't find the default printer to get the current settings; this was an issue with network printers being in the office and the user working from home,

      Fix was much the same, use PDF as the default.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Back in the old days there was no PDF driver

        1. RichardBarrell

          I think I vaguely remember some third-party print-to-PDF driver for Windows being sold as a commercial product, before Microsoft built one in a few years later.

          1. General Purpose Bronze badge

            And free ones, built on Ghostscript.

            1. Joe W Silver badge

              At least for postscript you could use one of the HP Laserprinter drivers and output to file... (unless you endet up with HPGL as the output, meh)

          2. katrinab Silver badge

            The one that came with Adobe Acrobat (the paid-for version, not the Reader) was quite commonly used, and probably still is.

        2. Def Silver badge
          Coat

          Back in the really old days there were no PDFs.

          1. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

            > Back in the really old days there were no PDFs.

            We just set the default to stone tablet back then.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        When I first got a PC at home, it wasn't connected to a printer - paperless office...

        Well, my office might have been paperless, but Microsoft Office insisted on a dummy printer being installed! That was before the days of PDF printer drivers.

      3. Antonius_Prime

        Excel still has issues if the default is a network printer and the user is, say, WFH...

        Thankfullt it isn't full on falling on face, but it's a fairly long hang on start up, print, exit, etc.

        The fix? Swap default printer to PDF...

        1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

          Re: WFH

          The number of times I've dialled into someone's pc to troubleshoot something and the person at the far end exclaims "ah, i should be able to print now..." and, without warning hits the print button, has been reamsworth. "Oh? It's still not working." Me: "Not there it's not, but it's coming out fine at my end."

      4. Captain Scarlet

        Excel and Access would both have issues with dodgy print drivers as well, I seem to remember Lexmark C750 drivers as well as HP Laserjet 2100 drivers causing these issues.

        Thankfully these days Universal print drivers are available and don't cause as many issues.

      5. Lilolefrostback

        Even today

        Two years ago, we installed a new program that requires a default printer be selected or it won't run. Program does not have a print function.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Even today

          That has to come high on the long "Why would they do that?" list!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Drivers

      We were developing some military kit. Hardware dev. in UK, s/w in US. The US had a mock-up rig of the h/w so that they could debug. In the UK we were always having problems which the US couldn't replicate - startup fails, BSOD, etc. They blamed us, of course, and things were getting rancorous. In the end they sent some SW engineers team over to find the problem. After a fair bit of work they found that the SW configuration of our kit was different from the mock-up in the US. We'd obviously been messing round with it, which wasn't allowed, and heads were going to roll.

      The US team had a support contract with a UK company to maintain/repair the servers, processors, printers, etc. Turns out that when the support company sent someone to check or repair something they also did a scan of the system and updated any drivers that were out of date. The support contract had no means of ensuring that changes like these were either authorised by the US or mirrored in the test rig. Since the US company was responsible for the contract it was their fault. US heads never rolled and the Yanks never apologised.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Drivers

        Not that I'm doubting your story, but if it was military hardware and so implies a certain level of hush-hush, so why was a support company involved?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Drivers

          The support company was a UK defence contractor.

          1. CountCadaver

            Re: Drivers

            a big and expensive contractor? One with a pasta themed name?

        2. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

          Re: Drivers

          Plenty of support companies can handle hush hush. Who do you think builds the military systems in the first place?

    3. Korev Silver badge
      Boffin

      We had some cellular image processing software which would write out details for each object (eg cell or nucleus) it found to CSV. It worked fine on the Linux workstations but when we tried to get it running on the HPC cluster it wouldn't write anything out and the scientists were getting a bit grumbly...

      It turns out that the software required the MySQL client to write out CSV files, oddly enough the client wasn't in the cluster's image...

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        FAIL

        Fluke logging multimeters

        They're great for recording battery charge/discharge cycles, etc.

        Only problem is: the proprietary Fluke software necessary to download the data from the meter requires Excel to run. It's too lazy to do the graphics and UI itself, so it outsources it to Excel. Which is great if your lab computer has Excel, but not so great if all you want is a CSV file to run through your own processing, say with Python or Maple.

        And they have the nerve to actually charge for this software, as if the price of the meter wasn't enough.

        God help you if your lab computer happens to run Linux or if your Corporate IT department (in the interests of security, of course) prohibits things like network-connected lab computers (which, I suppose, is a whole different problem).

        1. NXM

          Re: Fluke logging multimeters

          If you have to ask the price of a Fluke meter....

          1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Re: Fluke logging multimeters

            I once looked at the price of a Fluke meter and decided I could do exactly what I wanted with one less than half the price.

            1. adam 40 Silver badge

              Re: Fluke logging multimeters

              I'll see your Fluke multimeter and raise you a Rohde+Schwarz protocol analyser....

              1. H in The Hague Silver badge
                Pint

                Re: Fluke logging multimeters

                "Rohde+Schwarz protocol analyser"

                Yummmm!

              2. Zarno Silver badge

                Re: Fluke logging multimeters

                Almost anything made by Keysight.

              3. jason_derp Silver badge

                Re: Fluke logging multimeters

                "I'll see your Fluke multimeter and raise you a Rohde+Schwarz protocol analyser...."

                Those don't seem that overpriced given what they do and what goes into making them...

              4. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Fluke logging multimeters

                Cheapskate! A Cat-5 cable from Dixons/Pissy World wins this game.

                1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

                  Re: Fluke logging multimeters

                  Dixons/Pissy World - Only because Maplin have gone to the wall, but it was even then a close contest

                2. NXM

                  Re: Fluke logging multimeters

                  I really wish I could upvoted that several times. Thank you.

          2. Duncan Cummings

            Re: Fluke logging multimeters

            I have had my Fluke 75 and used it professionally in the field for over 30 years. Well worth the money! I bought it because I couldn't afford a Beckman at the time.

            1. Shred

              Re: Fluke logging multimeters

              Did you know that you can move a single resistor and turn it into a Fluke 77 (well, it gets the touch-hold feature anyway)?

        2. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

          Re: Fluke logging multimeters

          If the the measurements accurate - its a fluke!

        3. katrinab Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Fluke logging multimeters

          pandas.read_excel("filename.xlsx").to_dict(orient="records")

          should deal with that.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ugh... mamy moons ago I had a Linux system generate a nightly report. A script (probably PERL) queried a MySQL database and sent the results to our customer by piping the output to Sendmail as a .csv.

        Worked great for a year or so, then we were bought out by another company. Our new IT overlords moved our email to Exchange, which decided that my plain text emails were boring, and mangled them (I think it actually tried to wrap some HTML) which broke the customer's input process.

        IT said it's my problem, because the resulting email was "valid SMTP".

    4. 0x80004005

      Ctrl-B used to do that on MS Excel

      One "enterprise-level" customer of mine would slam their global printer configuration down to your PC as soon as you connected to their VPN. Being a lowly contractor I didn't have permission to print to any of them, and I had no desire to send random printouts to unsuspecting users in an office 500 miles away (oh the mischief I could have caused...)

      I was having seemingly random freezes in Excel, I'd open it, start using it, and soon enough it would freeze for 30 seconds before returning as if nothing had happened. Initially I thought Microsoft had discovered a way to get cell A3 addicted to Spice.

      Turns out the fault was triggered the first time Ctrl+B was pressed to make a cell bold.

      This causes Excel to load a new set of font metrics. The fonts are somehow linked to the printer driver (a hangover from the pre-TrueType days perhaps). So it needed to initialise the printer (via a VPN and a blocked firewall) to measure how wide a bold "A" should be.

      I soon learned to reset my local printer choice every time I connected to their VPN...

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

    Not entirely true. They count on the paper the HR drone looks at.

    Someone with a decade or more experience in the field will always know the incidental things that no university course can possibly teach (since the teachers do not go on client site), and will therefor be able to evaluate the total environment of the problem to find the real solution.

    1. ColinPa

      Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

      My grandfather used to create foundations for buildings. This often meant pumping out the water from the holes in the ground.

      A Newly Qualified Engineer connected a pipe to the pump, and nothing happened.

      My grandfather said turn the pipe round - end to end.

      NQE: No - it can make no difference

      Grandad - just do it.

      NQE: It works!

      There was a lining to the pipe, and which had got detached at one end. If you pumped the right way, the lining became smooth and lined the pipe. If you pumped the wrong way, the lining collapsed and caused a blockage.

      As Grandad said "teaching new dog old tricks!"

      1. Herring`

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        Clearly the NQE had never heard of a Tesla Valve

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        So how many buildings collapsed due to your grandfather building fountations with delapidated equipment?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

          Also a tip from an old hat: gear and equipment is only new, shiny and definitely works 100% as advertised until it's actually used for the first time. After that, it's all about coping with unintended quirks..

        2. Filippo Silver badge

          Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

          If I understand the story correctly, the pipe was used to drain water while building the foundations. It's not actually a part of the building.

      3. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        As Grandad said "teaching new dog old tricks!"

        I think I now qualify as old enough (and certainly grumpy enough) to make use of that, so please accept one or few ^^^^^ in return for it...

      4. jason_derp Silver badge

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        Why would you use a pipe like that?

        1. John 110
          Unhappy

          Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

          "Why would you use a pipe like that?"

          Because sometimes you have to use what THEY supply regardless of how crappy it is...

          1. jason_derp Silver badge

            Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

            Ha, okay, I'll bite. Why did THEY give you what seems like a much more expensive and complicated pipe than necessary? Why are THEY so determined to fritter money away?

            1. Chris G Silver badge

              Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

              The pipe is necessary, they were pumping water up out of a foundation, if the pump failed or ran out of fuel nothi g runs back down the hole.

              Considering those pumps could be running a 6" or bigger tube, it would be a pain if the hole fills back up.

              That is also why the outlet on a lot of site pumping uses layflat.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        Indeed - You can learn new tricks from an old dog

    2. Sam not the Viking

      Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

      We must also remember that a novice view on a problem can be embarrassingly accurate. We had a very large gearbox where the oil pressure-sensors indicated a major problem and the control system correctly prevented start-up. Blocked filter? Faulty pump? Pipes wrongly configured? Sensors faulty? Control fault?Wrong oil? Missing components? With the whole assembly in pieces several times, components replaced, reassembled and much scratching of heads, the new graduate asked if the by-pass valve might be incorrectly configured. After all, the handle could be placed in two ways...... "Don't be daft. Cup of tea would be good". They must have found the real problem whilst I fetched the tea because the system was up and running when I got back.

      1. Flightmode

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        The point of the story, I guess, is that every PFY needs a BOFH; but your comment highlights the other universal truth that every BOFH needs a PFY. Especially if he can take credit for the PFY's work.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

          And especially if the PFY can make acceptable tea.

          1. Zarno Silver badge

            Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

            And not that stuff from the Nutrimatic machine...

        2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

          Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

          As long as the BOFH have sufficient leverage over the PFY (blackmail, knowing where bodies are buried etc) then credit for any PFY work done can be taken.

          Muhuhahaha.

    3. Korev Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

      Where I used to work there was a microscope that connected via optic fibre to some hugely expensive card in the back of the PC. To make it work you had to connect in the wrong way round to the markings on the card. I have no idea who it was who worked that one out...

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        "To make it work you had to connect in the wrong way round to the markings on the card. I have no idea who it was who worked that one out..."

        At some point you just say "screw it " and try everything. If the thing is busted, hooking it up wrong isn't going to make it any worse (that you care about).

      2. TDog
        Mushroom

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        "It is necessary for technical reasons that these warheads be stored upside down; that is to say, with the top at the bottom and the bottom at the top. In order that there may be no doubt as to which is the bottom and which is the top, it will be seen to that the bottom of each warhead is immediately labelled with the word TOP."

        British Admiralty, 1960s.

        Quoted by David Langford - The Leaky Establishment

        Icon for obvious reasons. Good funny book.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

      At school/college I was shown how to do a clove hitch... simples... make two loops, cross the loops over, slide them over the post

      Back out in the big wide world, I was then taught the PROPER way to do a clove hitch... after all, "how do you pass those loops over the top of a tree or telegraph pole?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        Yes, that would have tied me in knots.

        No, wait ..

        :)

      2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        At school/college you were taught the lazy/sailor's way to do a clove hitch, which works fine to tie a small boat to a shore boulder.

      3. Andy 68

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        "how do you pass those loops over the top of a tree or telegraph pole?"

        You don't - you cut the bottom off and pass the loops from the bottom

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

          Reminds me of a joke:

          A mathematician, an engineer, and an English teacher were asked to measure the height of a flagpole. The mathematician and engineer started a long debate on the best and most accurate method - measure the shadow and sun angle? Place object of known height in front of flagpole and compare the apparent lengths from a distance? Etc.

          In the meantime, the English teacher pulled the pole out of the ground, laid it down, measured it with a tape measure, and put it back. The mathematician turned to the engineer and said,

          "That silly English teacher measured the length, not the height!"

          1. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

            Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

            Back in the day, there was supposed to be a test question:

            You have a Mercury barometer. How would you use it to measure the height of a building?

            There were several off the wall answers, such as tying a tying s tying a string to it, lowering it to the ground from the top of the building and then measuring the string.

            One of the best was... Go to the building engineer. Tell him, "I will give you this fine barometer if you will tell me how high this building is."

            ---

            For a bonus, a test my father used when he taught electrical and electronics systems to Maritime Service Cadets.

            You are on an oil tanker. You have a ohmmeter, a weight and spool of wire. You are by the inspection port of one of the tanks (of which you know the dimensions). There is some oil in the tank. Under the oil is some amount of sea water. Determine how much oil there is in the tank.

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

              I love that bonus test by your father, is a bit sneaky.

            2. the Jim bloke Silver badge

              Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

              I remember first encountering the barometer anecdote in Sir pTerrys' pre-discworld sci-fi novel, Strata.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

              Building height:

              Measure air pressure at ground level. Measure air pressure at top of building. Subtract. Use a table that correlates air pressure change to altitude to get a rough idea of the building height.

              Tanker:

              My first thought is to tie the weight to the spool of wire, connect ohmmeter to wire and side of tank, and slowly lower the weight into the tank. First change in resistance would be the top of the oil, second would be the seawater level.

              Of course, "under the oil" (and tanker) is the seawater of the ocean, which may be what he was talking about...

            4. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

              Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

              You are on an oil tanker. You have a ohmmeter, a weight and spool of wire. You are by the inspection port of one of the tanks (of which you know the dimensions). There is some oil in the tank. Under the oil is some amount of sea water. Determine how much oil there is in the tank.

              Ok, I'll bite - I can think of a way that involves two weights...

              Attach one weight to the wire and drop to the bottom of the tank. Cut the wire and attach the loose end to the ohmmeter. Attach the other end of the spool to the other side of the meter, attach a weight to the other end and slowly lower it into the oil. When the measured resistance suddenly drops, pull the second wire up, and measure how long the oily bit is. That gives the depth of the oil. Multiply by known cross-sectional area of the tank. Don't get blown up by any electrical discharge igniting the petrochemical fumes.

              1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
                Facepalm

                Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

                ...after writing that, I realised a simpler answer. Assuming the tank is metal, and in contact with the water at the bottom, there's no need to lower the first wire, just attach it to the tank by the inspection port!

    5. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

      Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

      qualifications are evidence (of a sort) of an education.

      the other stuff is training, and is properly the employer's responsibility, albeit one they try to slough off in the name of cost cutting.

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

        You have to add in employees allowed to use their judgement instead of just robotically following scripts on their computers. This one bedevils a lot of things in the modern world.

    6. TomPhan

      Re: "a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught"

      Strictly speaking the qualifications contain the right keywords that the CV scanning software is looking for.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Not an IT problem, but...

    A tiny radio studio in South America - no more than a basic room in a shared, largely residential, block of flats had problems with an upstairs neighbour stomping around in hobnailed boots and generally being a bit noisy.

    They asked me to look at the sound-proofing, as the normal solution (acoustic box-within-a-box) would have been both expensive and would have significantly shrunk the available space. My solution? Buy the neighbour a nice thick rug... cheap, worked a treat, and he though the studio was wonderful and sang their praises.

    1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo
      Coat

      Re: Not an IT problem, but...

      That's a problem solved by sweeping under it a carpet

      I'll get my coat

    2. adam 40 Silver badge

      Re: Not an IT problem, but...

      Good job you didn't buy him a shag pile, or you might have created a different rhythmic noise....

  5. ColinPa

    Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

    We had a technical person who was great at solving problems. He had a photo on the desk next to him, (I think it was of his dog). Before you could ask the person a question you had to ask the photo of the dog - it was said to have an 80% success rate!

    The conversation went a bit like

    "Hello Dog, this feels really stupid, but I have a problem where... ah I know the answer". Score +1 to the dog.

    This was because if you had to explain the problem in simple terms and get your thoughts in order, you often could solve the problem yourself.

    I read an article where it described if you are looking for something, ask yourself the question aloud "Where is the ..." this causes a different part of the brain to be used, and bypasses the temporary blindness

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

      Sounding board... I've been the one to listen to the users issue, and ask them to walk me through their issue, only to have the coin drop and resolve the issue themselves! That's a Win-Win!

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        I think most of us have been on both sides of that in our time.

      2. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        When solving programming problems, I refer to that as the "two heads are thicker than one" method.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        "Sounding board... I've been the one to listen to the users issue, and ask them to walk me through their issue, only to have the coin drop and resolve the issue themselves! That's a Win-Win!"

        That can work well or they might ask you the question that makes you look at the problem from a slightly different angle and get your answer.

    2. David Robinson 1

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

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

      Although, with me, it's not a rubber duck I talk to but a non-programmer. I've lost count of the number of times I'd be explaining a knotty coding issue to someone when they'd notice the light coming on behind my eyes. "Gotta go!"

      1. PM from Hell
        Angel

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        I'm a PM with a technical background but definitely not a developer. I always encourage devs who are struggling with a thorny issue to describe the problem to me, If they spend the time to describe what they are doing in terms I can understand then they almost always have the answer before they have finished talking.

        If they get all the way through and we don't have an answer they have enough detain for us to get the team together and we'll walk through it until we find a solution.

        Invariably they will have uncovered something during our discussion that will give someone else an insight that leads to a fix, often a quick chat between two developers leaves a lot of assumptions about what's been done, sometimes we do need to go down into the detail, even walking g through the code to get a resolution

        1. ColinPa

          Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

          The opposite.

          Two guys in a team were having a technical discussion and could not resolve which of two solutions to use. They went to their manager. They had a meeting to discuss it, and after a while the boss said, I think you've made some progress, go away and work on it. Come back in 2 days.

          The same thing happened, and again.

          I heard the two guys complaining that their manager was useless - he didn't decide which solution to use. Totally useless etc. .

          Eventually they came to a decision.

          The manager said you are both experts in this field, how did you expect me,who only knows the concept to make a technical decision. My job was to get you guys to resolve it.

          Afterwards (this was down the pub) the two techies said "he's right. he should not have been asked to make the decision. His job was to make us decide. Perhaps he is a good manager after all"

      2. AdamT

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        Ah, yes. I used to refer to that as "Teddy Bear debugging" ...

        ... until the fateful day when I turned to my colleague, explained the problem, worked out the issue and then, while he continued to remain silent and with no further context, I announced "You are my Teddy Bear".

        I briefly considered exiting via the window.

        I think "you are my rubber duck" would have been better, but still weird

    3. DailyLlama

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

      I do that with crossword clues. The act of reading the clue out loud makes you hear it as well as read it, and a different part of the brain thinks about it and bam you have the answer, often before you've finished reading the clue out, which annoys/frustrates everyone who's listening.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        "Yes, I talk to myself, it's the only way to get an intelligent conversation around here!"

        1. Antonius_Prime

          Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

          The TShirt is:

          "Of course I talk to myself!

          Sometimes I need the expert advice!"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        Reading aloud can sometimes work when trying to make sense of documents in a foreign language. At one place I worked we occasionally got technical specs in Italian; we didn't need to fully understand them, just be able to tell if they were what the supplier had claimed. None of us in the team spoke Italian (and this was before Google translate, et.al. was available). We found that reading parts aloud in a mock/comic Italian accent actually made enough clear to know what we needed.

        It's a bit like Greek. I know the Greek alphabet because almost every letter has been used in some technical/mathematical/scientific context. If you read a word aloud it often becomes understandable, when the written form was - just Greek! I found the same with Cyrillic, once you know how to sound the letters. Most European languages come from the same stems and, whilst you could never use this technique in conversation, it's often been useful. Of course, if you only speak English, you have the advantage that almost everyone else you're likely to meet (in the business or technical world) will also speak it. Not an excuse for not trying to learn some of the local languages when visiting...

        1. WhereAmI?

          Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

          Context, context, context. My team often sees problems reported in German, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Italian, not so much. We've been dealing with the same set of products for so long that we can all read the problem reports pretty accurately before the official translation arrives. Not one of us can actually speak any of those languages.

        2. Muscleguy Silver badge

          Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

          Yup once you transliterate Restaurant into Cyrillic you get the Russian. Lots of Russian words are like that, there’s heap of Latinate/German loanwords in Russian. Crack the Cyrillic and they leap out at you.

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

            Yup once you transliterate Restaurant into Cyrillic you get the Russian. Lots of Russian words are like that, there’s heap of Latinate/German loanwords in Russian. Crack the Cyrillic and they leap out at you.

            And most of the maritime idiom is derived from Dutch (a result of Peter the Great spending time in the Netherlands).

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

            I recall "restaurant" being one of the words in a BBC programme on understanding bits of Russian/Cyrillic prior to the 1980 Moscow Olympics... the strange things that stick in our minds taking up valuable memory space!

    4. Wyrdness

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

      I heard of a company that had two developers who always pair programmed. One seemed to do all of the actual development and the other just sat and listened. The company considered sacking the developer who appeared to be doing nothing. But then they realised that these two were achieving far more than any other two developers were able achieve individually.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        That's actually the sign that you have put together a good team: they are collectively far more productive than the individuals would have been.

        Personally, I prefer to use the other metric this generates: it's fun to work in and with such a team, and the team enjoys this too. It's stupidly addictive to work in such environments, for all the right reasons.

        Naturally, this requires management that sees staff as people which is unfortunately rare.

    5. NXM

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

      I ask the Pixies.

      I know it sounds mad, but if I've lost something I ask the Pixies to help me find it. They don't hide things, its me who does that by accident, but they know where they are. Last time I'd looked for a pair of glasses for days, no sign of them. So I asked the Pixies, and 5 minutes later I spotted them in plain sight, right where I'd left them.

      I'll try asking them for answers to difficult questions next!

      1. Potty Professor
        Facepalm

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        I was overhauling a classic car, replacing any rusted bolts with new ones, and had reached the stage of refitting the brake calipers. I had previously ordered new, very special, bolts to attach the (safety critical) calipers, but did not get around to using them immediately, so had put them away it the box containing all the other brake parts. Come the day, no bolts! I searched all day long, turned the garage upside down, even searched in the house (why should car parts have been in there?), all to no avail, so I had to order some more 'very expensive' bolts. The day after they arrived, I took them into the garage, only to find the original set of bolts in plain view on the workbench. I know they had not been there the previous evening as the last thing I did was to sweep the bench and the garage floor. I have never solved the mystery of the wayward bolts, but now I have a spare set, should any of the second set fail (and why might they?).

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

          "should any of the second set fail (and why might they?)."

          Why? Because you have a spare set. Of course, you'll not be able to find them when you need them :-)

        2. Jou (Mxyzptlk)

          Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

          > should any of the second set fail (and why might they?)

          They won't. Because you are prepared for that failure and have the parts ready.

      2. TomPhan

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        I've noticed that the pixies have developed the technology to change any photos you may have taken as proof that you've looked and couldn't find it.

      3. Steve K Silver badge

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        All well and good, unless they are Nac Mac Feegle……

      4. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

        "if I've lost something I ask the Pixies to help me find it."

        Where is my mind?

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

      "This was because if you had to explain the problem in simple terms and get your thoughts in order, you often could solve the problem yourself."

      On the rare occasions I've been stumped out in the field and had to phone back to base for additional help, there's probably about a 33% "ah ha!" moment while dialling, another 33% of "Ah ha!" moment while explaining the problem to a colleague and another 33% where said colleague has made a blindingly obvious suggestion i already knew but for some reason my brain hadn't bothered to tell me about sooner. The final 1% is where it's a genuine head scratcher and we're all struggling for a solution :-)

      Sometimes, walking away from a problem and thinking about something else for a few minutes helps the brain to reorganise itself :-)

    7. SuperGeek

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

      I knew I wasn't going daft thinking out loud! Talking to myself? Nah, being logical!

    8. nintendoeats Bronze badge

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

      For a while I started writing out what I wanted to talk to people about before I spoke to them, to save the embarassing "oh, now that I've explained it it's obvious" moment. I've found that I don't actually need to do this all that often anymore, since I've sort of trained myself to naturally perform this exercise.

      What would <FellowEngineer> do...

    9. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

      Ah yes, this is the "If you were a <object> where would you hide?" solution.

    10. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Ask the dog - it has an 80% success rate

      That’s because when we look for things we look for an image in our heads of the thing. Say you want the cheese grater (A common one here), attentional blindness means you cannot perceive it. Maybe it’s lying down or seen side on.

      Speaking the need forces the brain to engage more images of the object, solving the attentional fixation on one. I solve it by thinking about what it looks like. Which is why last night I briefly entertained the lid of a jar being the large slotted spoon. Both are black you see, I was looking for black things. I found the spoon shortly afterwards, it was behind me.

  6. Alan J. Wylie

    "electron-to-joule conversion formulae"

    That would be ""electronvolt""

    $ units -1 "electronvolt" "joule"

    * 1.6021766e-19

    1. KBeee Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: "electron-to-joule conversion formulae"

      Always reminds me of an episode of Star Trek (TOS) where an Evil Mr. Spock in an alternative universe said "Set phasers to a million electron volts" to destroy a city on the surface of a planet, and I wondered if even a microbe would notice such a small amount of energy.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: "electron-to-joule conversion formulae"

        Not to excuse the lack of correct science in a sci-fi TV show with warp drive and famously unreliable transporters, but phaser settings in electron volts wouldn't necessarily be calibrating the strength of the entire beam.

        It could be a million electron volts per micron per attosecond or something, so depending on the specific area and time base used could easily be enough to destroy a city at full beam width.

        Though on the evil Enterprise you'd think the bridge officers would know the correct settings to destroy a city by heart without Spock telling them, as they'd be doing that all the time. That would happen as often as "assume standard orbit, Mr. Sulu".

    2. the spectacularly refined chap

      Re: "electron-to-joule conversion formulae"

      No, it's ill-defined, since an electron is an object while a joule is a unit of work.

      Generally you would regard the electron as a charge in which case the conversion factor is "voltage" [1] - 1 volt is 1 joule per coulomb.

      V = E/Q -> VQ = E

      If Q is an electron charge and the potential difference is 1V you end up with an electronvolt as E - it's just another unit of work like the joule, albeit a tad smaller.

      However because the electron is a physical object it has other properties as well as charge so it does remain fundamentally ambiguous. The only other one I can think of which is of any relevance to conversion to work is its mass, governed by good old E = mc².

      [1] Yes, OK, it's actually voltage times electron charge but it's the voltage that is the unknown factor.

  7. Dafyd Colquhoun

    At least two ways of dealing with problems

    Many years ago when I worked for the local power company we checked clearances from the >100kV power lines to ground with a laser survey. Turns out there were quite a few places where the stringing calculations done in the 1950s to 1970s weren't so good and the mandatory clearances weren't there, so there was a big program to fix it up, and to get more clearance (and hence more power capacity) for critical spans. All costly especially as the power couldn't be turned off until other lines had been upgraded.

    One of the property offices had the realisation that the reason the clearance on one site wasn't good enough wasn't helped by a farmer building an illegal dam on the transmission easement. The farmer was 'encouraged' to remove the dam, and then to remove a bit more of the hill. Just shows that line clearance can be achieved by raising lines or lowering ground.

    1. Potty Professor
      Facepalm

      Re: At least two ways of dealing with problems

      I forget which locomotive it was, and Google hasn't helped, but I remember some time ago that a newly refurbished steam locomotive hit a bridge and damaged its chimney and the top of the cab. The loco had been cleared for main line running, so an inquiry was held. Eventually it was discovered that recent reballasting of the track had raised the level of the rails significantly, and had therefor reduced the bridge clearance enough to cause there to be an "interference fit" between loco and stonework.

      1. ButlerInstitute

        Re: At least two ways of dealing with problems

        A friend used to say the definition of "interference fit" was that you interfere with it until it fits.....

        Which doesn't quite fit this usage.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: At least two ways of dealing with problems

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcqfa_uj2hA

      3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: At least two ways of dealing with problems

        Similarly: https://notalwaysright.com/this-lesson-really-stings-part-3/233328/

        ...third adventure of a story protagonist with a title that really refers to episode one. So, confusing.

  8. StrangerHereMyself Bronze badge

    Electron doesn't work

    You cannot convert an electron to joules. You can convert electron-volts to Joule, though.

    1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

      Re: You cannot convert an electron to joules.

      Throw a positron at it. :-)

      1. GreyWolf

        Re: You cannot convert an electron to joules.

        "Throw a positron at it. :-)"

        And step back smartly.

        1. TomPhan

          Re: You cannot convert an electron to joules.

          Just reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At least they had a firedoor...

    One of my previous employers had a server room in one end of the warehouse (think warehouse large enough to have 2 lorry loading docks) - loads of dust, variable temps and then we get to the access for the room..

    Gap underneath, a mag lock (that could be opened with a hard drive magnet) and a door made of the finest in bottom of bargain basement plywood that flexed significantly when opening or closing it.

    About as fireproof as a PFY'S underpants and as secure as locking a bike up with a paperclip...

    Oh and their PABX was behind a network switch server rack and required squeezing past enough cabling to freak out a certain Dr. Jones with cries of "why is it always snakes?". Didn't help when age finally started to kill the cards.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: At least they had a firedoor...

      I worked in one building where one server room was completely off limits. It was in a Victorian building and over the time the weight of the racks had increased to the point that one of the floor beams had cracked.

      This had been the original server room when the company started but as it grew additional rooms were build in other buildings.

      All the kit in that room was all approaching end of life and so if it failed it was replaced in a rack in another server room.

      It was in that condition for a couple of years until they moved to new premises.

      During decommissioning the kit was taken out 1 server at a time with only one person being allowed in the room at any point. Only the two youngest (and lightest) engineers were allowed in.

      1. David Robinson 1

        Re: At least they had a firedoor...

        "Youngest (and lightest) engineers."

        Because they'd yet to succumb to the effects of years of Friday liquid lunches?

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: At least they had a firedoor...

        ...and nobody thought to go down to the home center and pick up a stout post to shove under the cracked beam?

        1. Jon 37 Silver badge

          Re: At least they had a firedoor...

          In a business, if you do that, and it breaks, you're in trouble. Should have got a specialist (structural engineer??) and qualified builders. But that would have been expensive.

          1. Cav

            Re: At least they had a firedoor...

            Yes, the correct way. We did that when I worked for a UK government agency. Unfortunately, manglement didn't coordinate the project at all well - no surprise there! Went in to work one morning, to complaints of service outages. Went down to the data center, which was a few miles away from the offices, and found that those qualified builders had demolished one of the walls to the data centre, with everything still (supposedly) up and running. While many were down, a surprising number of the servers, which I believe were some early Dell variety (this was decades ago), were still up and running, despite a thick coating of brick dust and rubble!

        2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: At least they had a firedoor...

          "a stout post to shove under the cracked beam"

          Structural engineering is harder than you imagine. That would be unlikely to help, and might make things worse. If the beam goes, the post would add a sideways component to the movement unless it's so firmly fixed upright that you might as well have fixed the problem properly.

  10. IGotOut Silver badge

    Nortel clearly learnt from this...

    The "Option" range could by hit by a nuclear bomb and still keep working.

    The 81 was the most reliable kit I ever worked on. You counted outages in times per decade, not per year (or month as seems to be the case for "cloud")

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nortel clearly learnt from this...

      Did Norton go bust because their stuff was so reliable their customers didn't need to buy anything?

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Nortel clearly learnt from this...

        Did Norton go bust because their stuff was so reliable their customers didn't need to buy anything?

        No, because Peter Norton sold the whole outfit to bean counters button sorters.

        1. adam 40 Silver badge

          Re: Nortel clearly learnt from this...

          Not to mention the time when I went to visit Norton Networks at Maidenhead in the good old Ionica days.

          it was the day when the Norton share price went over $100 for the first time.

          All you could hear was the clicking of mouse buttons, the employees were doing no work, they were refreshing the stock price on their browsers waiting for the $100 to come up, as they all had share options!

          Whether they vested them and took the money before it all went titsup is another story....

      2. nintendoeats Bronze badge

        Re: Nortel clearly learnt from this...

        Guys...

        Nortel

        not Norton

    2. Edwin

      Re: Nortel clearly learnt from this...

      Indeed, I managed a 51C that seemed indestructible.

      I'm guessing the SDX was a predecessor of the 11C?

  11. Chris Evans

    Passing the buck?

    "The client had failed to mention the fire door upgrades during the initial fault finding, meaning that the time spent dealing with the problem was therefore chargeable." If I was the client I'd dispute the invoice, as the equipment should have been more robust. The cause wasn't obvious to the university grad as well as the customer. Maybe spit the bill 50:50?

    1. ortunk
      Devil

      Re: Passing the buck?

      Let's negotiate on the terrace with a nice view of your car, if you could just lean on the railing where we cut it all will be resolved.

    2. Chris Evans

      Re: Passing the buck?

      Why the thumbs down?

      Please explain your logic.

      "Col" immediately deduced the effect the door closing vibration had had, which implies a known problem.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Passing the buck?

        It is implied that the service contract required any significant changes to the server environment to be notified as soon as possible (or maybe during planning). If "Col" and his team had been notified, preferably during the planning stage, something could have been done to mitigate the damage (perhaps, mount to something better than fibreboard). That wasn't done, so the service contract did not apply for damage caused as a result of the changes.

  12. Medieval Research Council

    Mid 1970s my project leader would bounce his latest graphics programming ideas off me because I was a still a mechanical engineer at the time and wouldn't understand a word. I worked for Dick Newell -- not unknown in computer graphics.

  13. SuperGeek

    Vibration

    Vibration in the universe isn't always positive outcome :)

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