back to article IT advice fuelled by beer is the best IT advice of all, right?

Wave a cheery hello to Monday with a warning from a Register reader that advice given in a pub is perhaps better limited to which brew is better. Welcome to Who, Me? Today's story comes from "Sam" and takes place in the final decade of the last century. He was working for a computer and office equipment supplier that was …

  1. Joe W Silver badge

    That's a boss with deep insight in the human psyche

    ... some others would have shot the messenger. Again.


    IT advice starting with: uh, I've got this GREAT idea!

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Arc welder next door

    Been bitten by that once or twice before.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: Arc welder next door

      I guess you mean burned by that...

    2. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: Arc welder next door

      I heard a similar tale when I joined a hospital. But it was to do with the routing of cabling through an X-Ray room!

      Kept appearing on the PC at the other end of the cable! ------------>

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Arc welder next door

        (sorry, have told this a few times already...)

        A wine merchant kept complaining his data leased line was going down nearly every morning. We had been in a few times and checked/changed the modem and line, but nothing was wrong while we where there.

        He called one day and announced he had figured out it happened just around the time that the café next door was opening, so it must be something like a dodgy coffee machine.

        We turned up early-ish next morning with a mains analyser borrowed from R&D and set it up, with a data tester running a test pattern round a loop on the remote modem... and sat back with a very agreeable sherry at 9am.

        Nothing! Not a sausage! Data tester and mains monitor showed everything well within acceptable limits...

        Then he got up and walked around his desk to fetch a folder from the bookcase... the data tester went wild!

        Yes, the cable between the modem and the line termination ran under the carpet

  3. John Doe 12

    Full Story?

    What kind of a company fires the head of I.T. only for the reason given in this story? So what if that department couldn't figure out what it was and someone from outside came up with the answer. There must be more to it that we are not being told because otherwise that entire organisation must be on drugs or something.

    1. cantankerous swineherd

      Re: Full Story?

      what kind of company? one run by managers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Full Story?

        What kind of company isn't run by managers?

        I think you meant to say "company run by incompetent tossers". Which to be fair is an accurate description of most so-called managers.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Full Story?

          I worked at what was then BTRL for 10 years. In the tech side all the managers were promoted engineers. Some of them were not the best managers by far but what I did discover is they were a lot better than managers trained as managers with no real knowledge of engineering! Overpromoted salesoinks are pretty frightening too - you may think you can persuade me but the electrons say fuck you dickhead!

      2. Someone Else Silver badge

        @cantankerous swineherd -- Re: Full Story?

        what kind of company? one run by American managers.

        There, FTFY

        Or, at least, managers that have graduated from one of our <sarcasm>finest</sarcasm> American B-schools

        1. swm Silver badge

          Re: @cantankerous swineherd -- Full Story?

          <sarcasm>finest</sarcasm> American B-schools

          Does the "B" stand for "bullshit"?

      3. IceC0ld

        Re: Full Story?

        of the Pointy Headed type naturally

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Full Story?

      Do they not teach kids to let their imagination run these days?

      Yes I’m sure there is far more to this story, can you guess what it is yet?

      It’ll be something along the lines of frequent cases of not being able to get his staff to do what turns out to be trivial stuff and the end users frequently have to resort to getting advice from some bloke down the pub & probably expensive fixes that turns out to be via the brother in law’s company.

      Etc etc.

      1. John Doe 12

        Re: Full Story?

        A very cynical reply there my friend - and probably correct as well :-D

        I guess this story tells the tale of the straw breaking the camel's back. Or as I often prefer to illustrate that metaphor:

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          Re: Full Story?

          I prefer this one (Not the beer)!

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Full Story?

        Or possibly, this was the one incident where they had enough of a paper trail to sack him.

  4. MrBanana Silver badge

    Enjoy the beer when you can

    Just two support guys, enjoying a fine brew after an out of town sabbatical week working with our development guys. My pager goes off, uh ho! Then Bob's pager goes off as well, oh crap - that means it's VERY serious. Swiftly finish beers. Taxi back to Bob's parents who lived locally. Get coffee. Dig out 9600 baud modem. Get more coffee. Fix customer problem. The VP in charge of support congratulated us and used the "heck we can pull our top guys out of a bar in Portland at 1am to fix your problem" story for years afterwards. Different back then, not sure it would be such a proud boast in our more enlightened times.

  5. ColinPa Silver badge

    Good will visit - lost good will

    I was in Australia for a major project in several stages. Rather than come home, between trips, I got my employer to pay for me to pay for me to do some "good will visits" so I had a 3 week "vacation" with 6 customer visits paid for by my company!

    I went to one customer and spent the day with them. I think it went well, in fact I got taken out to the local bar by the local systems programmer who asked me details how it worked internally. I explained in general terms (missing out all of the confidential information) and we covered many napkins.

    Next day I got an urgent email from the head of support asking what the hell was going on.

    The guy had gone back to the office raised a sev 1 problem and slagged of our product saying what a crappy way to design it, and had we thought about...

    I had to write back and say "I explained in general terms. When I said the product searches for the item of interest, you assumed it was a linear search. In fact we have a hash table. Where you assumed we used the expensive xxx function to lock, we have a 8 instruction "check and lock"...

    I got to meet up with the local team from my company who said "ahh - we should have warned you about the guy. He is very bright, and assume he is always right".

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: He is very bright

      Not really, no.

      It's one thing to have an opinion on stuff you've been told, it's another thing entirely to go off on a revenge campaign about what you think you heard.

      He should have confirmed his suspicions first by asking pointed questions. On top of the fact that he visibly offered the drink just to get something he could thrash after the fact. That behaviour is despicable.

      In any case, if it had been me, that would have been the last time I ever had a drink with that guy.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: He is very bright

        "He is very bright, and assume he is always right". --> So he's not actually very bright then?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: He is very bright

          He sounds like upper-management material.

        2. Ignazio

          Re: He is very bright

          I bet they were tapping their nose all through that sentence

        3. dinsdale54

          Re: He is very bright

          A friend who used to work at BT Martlesham labs said "we have people here so bright they have to be helped to the door"

          As with the story above, massive knowledge in one area can result in lacking skill in others.

          1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

            Re: He is very bright

            "we have people here so bright they have to be helped to the door"

            My father-in-law from my first marriage was a plant manager at ICI (and a very good research chemist in his own right) and used to say much the same thing about the freshly minted PhDs that he used to get assigned to him. [Management assigned them to him in much the same way wild horses are assigned to horse breakers.]

          2. Jesthar

            Re: He is very bright

            My university had a tounge in cheek 'glossary of terms' in the freshers handouts. If memory serves, one entry read:

            "Lecture: A period time wherin the first ten minutes is usually spent watching someone with three PhDs trying to figure out how to work the lights and OHP"

            1. John 110

              Re: He is very bright

              My wife trained as a Secondary School teacher after her degree. She spent a year on how to teach and how to use the equipment she would be expected to use when she taught (science teacher, so complicated stuff).

              I worked at a University Lab where this year's PhD students became next year's lecturers, without any teaching training other than what they remembered from being lectured at by the last lot (who had been trained "on the job" same as them...)

              1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

                Re: He is very bright

                this year's PhD students became next year's lecturers, without any teaching training other than what they remembered from being lectured at by the last lot

                And medics have the saying "watch one, do one, teach one".

            2. Yes Me Silver badge

              Re: He is very bright

              The equipment in most university lecture theatres has been specifically designed to confuse people with Ph.Ds. I have always assumed that a team of technicians without Ph.Ds was tasked with designing such equipment (and in particular the cables that are physically disconnected by anonymous staff at random times of day, noting the absence of labels on any of the sockets). It only got better when things like automatic video recording and standardised presentation computers were added (where the word "automatic" is a euphemism for "randomly enabled or disabled", and "standardised" is a euphemism for "Windows XP").

              The pandemic has actually made things better, since Zoom is more predictable than any lecture theatre equipment ever misinvented.

          3. tezboyes

            Re: He is very bright

            And also a lot of jealous alleged "people persons" who can't stand the fact that the techies are way brighter than they are.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: He is very bright

        "In any case, if it had been me, that would have been the last time I ever had a drink with that guy."

        If he was buying I would have been more than happy to set him up for a somewhat more entertaining denouement.

    2. MrBanana Silver badge

      Re: Good will visit - lost good will

      Most outside work, customer chats over a beer are not a problem, and usually a good thing. But you can tell when you are doing all the talking, and they are doing the pumping for knowledge. Then you have to try and open the conversation to understand what they really want to know, and why. It's probably important if they are pushing like this, so encourage them to set up a proper dialogue at a more appropriate time. Or, end up with a drunken scuffle in the carpark - "Noo, my databases iss farster than yor databaeses." - This obviously never happened, to me. It was probably Bob (Regomised) from Tech Support.

      1. CuChulainn Silver badge

        Re: Good will visit - lost good will

        Slightly off on a tangent (but still alcohol related), I was in Germany one time on an audit/site trial/sales thing with a company which we wanted to buy a piece of equipment from. It was going to cost around £1 million, but it had to be able to do what we wanted it to do. It was a continuous confectionery processing line.

        Now, I don't drink spirits. Just beer. I hate spirits, mainly because every time I drink them I get the Mother of All Hangovers for the next three days.

        Anyone who's been on these sorts of visit knows you get plied with food and hospitality to the max (certainly back in the 90s). And this was no exception.

        It was a beautiful summer's day evening. We'd been taken to a country pub in the heart of the Germany, and I remember the roses that had been trained over the trelliswork in the outside courtyard. We had a great meal with snails as a starter, the typical German 'meat, meat, some more meat, and no veg' main, and a thumping dessert which may have been a Germknödel.

        Then the hosts broke out the Bismarck (Schnapps). I'd already had several large German beers and I politely refused, but they insisted.

        It tasted very nice.

        When I got back to my hotel that night, I threw up. I threw up several times during the night, and continued to throw up all the next morning in the final meeting before our departure (I had to keep excusing myself). I had a massive hangover, and a stinking cold to cap it all off.

        Probably the only hangover that I can genuinely claim wasn't really all my fault - but only just.

        We bought the machine. And the hosts thought it was funny.

        1. Kevin Johnston

          Re: Good will visit - lost good will

          I was working in Amsterdam supporting a Senior Engineer who was also acting as Project Manager for the installation of some big systems. A couple of weeks after we had got started there had been a few issues which we had managed to work through and all was still on schedule (a minor miracle in itself) so the evening drink sessions started. A few days later the atmosphere was very frosty as it seems the Senior engineer had rather more than intended and had begun conversing in Dutch which was a shock to the customer who had been reverting to Dutch in meetings for secrecy.

    3. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Good will visit - lost good will

      "He is very bright" often is an impression given by somebody who is over-confident and vociferous.

      There tends to be an automatic buy-in for these people because they seem to know what they're talking about. It's really just Dunning-Kruger. The listener, knowing their own limitations will over-estimate the idiot's ability and possibly underestimate their own too.- Unless of course they're even dimmer, which I've also seen.

      Confident assertions tends to be very persuasive. I've fallen for it far too many times, allowing my own opinion to be over-ridden by someone who seems more sure of their solution than I was of mine, or simply had it over-ridden by a manager. Only to find later that I was right. Saying "I told you so" doesn't make it feel better.

  6. aerogems Bronze badge

    Faraday cages

    Some years back I worked for a now defunct retailer -- people had to get approval for the cost of placing an ad on Craigslist -- doing repairs to their computer inventory, primarily Apple units around the time Apple was starting to push some new remote diagnostic tool for AASPs that we were expected to run before ordering any parts despite the fact that it was completely useless. It was a completely useless from a diagnostic standpoint, but it was intended to be run in front of customers to make them feel all warm and fuzzy. Since I never interacted with customers directly, it was a waste of time, but try explaining that to Apple middle managers.

    The owners of this retailer were incredibly cheap and didn't really tend to think things through. I was working inside a "store" that existed only inside their warehouse where all the units from different stores would be funneled. A warehouse that was a giant metal structure, making it very good at blocking radio signals, and to top it off, where I worked was basically right in the middle of said warehouse that had its own metal frame. Rather than pay for something sensible, like a T1 line into the building, they gave us a single cellular hotspot for about 8-9 techs. I swear that thing would go down if someone so much as looked at it wrong, so good luck downloading multi-GB diagnostic images. I had to download them at home, burn them onto a DVD and then smuggle them into work.

    To be fair, lower management was pretty supportive of the idea of getting something better for me, since I was actually bringing in a decent chunk of revenue on warranty repairs from Apple -- Apple literally accused me of being multiple people because my repair rate was significantly higher than their usual metrics -- but it always got shot down by stingy upper management every time they tried to get something through.

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Faraday cages

      "Apple literally accused me of being multiple people because my repair rate was significantly higher than their usual metrics"

      To be fair to Apple, smuggling work in to work means not all your work was accounted for on the time sheet.

      1. aerogems Bronze badge

        Re: Faraday cages

        In this case, it was that my volume of repaired units was significantly higher than the average. The reality is I'm just something of a Traveling Salesman Problem nerd and would try to find the optimal way to do every repair. So many of the repairs were the same thing -- replace the display, replace the MLB, etc -- that I got to be quite good at them after doing the repair dozens of times. All I did was smuggle in diagnostic images. Later, after they made us get a system running Mac OS X Server, I turned that into a netboot system where I could restore units to factory condition and even run the diagnostic images off the server and not DVDs. Add in a like 10-port switch and some cables and I was often only limited my workbench space. Two or three units could be running diagnostics or being restored to factory condition and I'd be working on another.

  7. Zarno

    As a friend once said:

    As a friend once said:

    "I'm sure I've told you before the difference between "did you plug it into the 220v transformer?" and "you should plug that into the 220v transformer""

  8. Zakspade

    Big customer. Problems with a KVM switchbox. Not supported. However, I was instructed to use best endeavours to keep them happy.

    Problem was that the box would freeze randomly. Swapping out didn't sure it. After a lot of digging, I traced it to a single user being close to the KVM. They had a heart pacemaker fitted. If they stayed away from the KVM, all was well. If they leant over it or the desk - WHAM! Instant inability to switch between PCs...

    So I smile when laptop users b*tch about not being allowed to use their kit on airliners (admittedly, I'm talking about the 90s).

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      I hate to think what the BOfH solution to this issue would be, but I assume it would involve triggering the pacemaker...

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      They had a heart pacemaker fitted. If they stayed away from the KVM, all was well.

      I find that remarkably unlikely. Pacemakers contain a relatively small Li battery (~5Wh) that has to last for years(*) and they use ~25µJ per pacing pulse, so there's no way they can emit a signal powerful enough to affect a KVM, even ignoring the ~65% water plus dissolved ions wrapper it's contained in.

      (*) Compare that with a mobile phone which has a bigger battery and needs recharging every day or two.

      1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        ...assuming it's working perfectly to spec, with no manufacturing defects or post-install bumps/shifts/bends etc.

        Example from a few decades ago: a completely battery-free powersupply-free device would routinely shut down Tullamarine Airport (Melbourne's Heathrow) with a massive radar scream which drowned out everything they had. Bizarrely intermittent; took ages to triangulate the source.

        It was a completely normal clothesline, a Hills Hoist, with a bent arm where their kid had swung on it once. When the wind blew from the right direction at the right speed: massive radar jammer.

        The issue with electronics on planes is not their normal/as-designed case; it's the risk of them being unwittingly different from spec. Either from manufacturing error or usage.

        OP mentioned "leaning over" -- could be that that pressure moved parts of the case in his particular device.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          ...assuming it's working perfectly to spec, with no manufacturing defects or post-install bumps/shifts/bends etc.

          We're talking a potentially life critical implanted medical device here. Manufacturing defects risk dead patients, and get detected and replaced post haste. As for post installation damage, the patient would generally be aware(*) of the severe chest injury necessary for that to happen.

          OP mentioned "leaning over" -- could be that that pressure moved parts of the case in his particular device.

          The pressure would be that of flesh on stainless steel/titanium so little displacement involved, and the devices are designed with that in mind.

          I did like the radar story, although I had to look up what a Hills Hoist was. (A rotary clothes line, for those of us on the upper side of the planet.)

          (*) Unless the damage was sufficient to negate the need for the pacemaker.

      2. Alex Brett

        It could also be that as well as the pacemaker they had an external device that interfaced with it to monitor it or similar, which could well be emitting stronger signals etc...

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Nope. I'm on my second pacemaker, 17+ years in total, so have some experience in this area. When it's time for maintenance(*) read-outs the monitor at the hospital (a briefcase computer with near field comms, basically) does all the work. I've also recently been given a remote access monitor that phones home when I take a reading but it sits on the bedside table rather than wandering around with me.

          (*) For me as well as the pacemaker.

  9. Brian Meehan

    I had something similar happen

    I was working support at a beloved-but-no-longer-existing long distance carrier back in the mid '90s, and was sent to Raleigh to sort out an issue with missing alarms in the Network Management Center. All the communications out to the regional networks (running x.25) came into the basement of the building and were cabled up to the third floor. The systems would work OK at night, but connections to the regions would drop once the workday started.

    I noticed that the errors on the lines had a pattern to them, and they coincided with the shift changes. Yep, the cabling ran up thru the elevator shafts, which had the motors in the basement. The electrical/magnetic field caused by those motors was inducing so much noise on the line that the communications was impossible.

    The local customers, of course, laughed at me. I said OK, that's what the problem is, fix it or don't.

    About three months later, one of the local techs got a prize for replacing the cabling with something that was shielded.

  10. WestOzWind

    So is RFI Interference similar to ATM Machine?

  11. Already?

    Back stabber...

    Reminds me of Y2K days, when we were getting to the end of a major UK financial institution's source code renovation. The project had gone well; the bank was where I'd worked until 18 months previously and had outsourced the work to an outside company, and I'd landed a job with them - easiest interview ever, which was mostly me pointing out flaws in their planned process and referring to code that I'd written a couple of years earlier. Having a number of good contacts on the client site was also deemed to be v useful for those times when an informal quick question can shortcut 3 days of written requests etc, esp when some of said contacts were drinking buddies and members of our then football team. I still played, even though I'd long since left.

    Very close to the end of the Y2K thing we were obviously reallocating our people to new projects - these things don't just end with a bang, they wind down as the last of the work is completed. Over a beer one night one of my 'chums' (let's regomise him as 'Steve') casually asked what was next for me; in all innocence I joked that I'd lost interest now that the last few bits that were nothing to do with me were going through and that a new project was lined up, away from 'bloody y2k renovations'. Then we got onto football and Leicester having another good season under Martin O'Neill, and that was it until Monday morning when I was hauled into our highest level manager's office to explain why I'd told the client that we'd 'lost interest and were now going through the motions till it finishes'. It transpired that Steve had gone straight to his boss - also one of our fellow footballers - to report what I'd said, with added flourishes, out of context twists and and a couple of completely made-up facts to embellish his 'insider knowledge'. A terse phone call a few minutes after the internal bollocking didn't do much to clear things up and Steve & I fell out over it. I think we've only spoken once since when we bumped into each other in a shop.

    A good life lesson though - best to be never fully off duty when dealing with clients, even if you still see yourself as still one of them that's gone to the other side.

  12. tezboyes

    Was his name really Sam, or was it Simon ...

  13. earlwer

    Needs a replacement...

    One of our techs was on site, diagnosing a hardware problem with the disk drive (Probably a Control Data Corp 9762 Storage Module Drive with a whopping 80 megs).

    The head bean counter went ballistic when he overheard the tech speaking to the office... "I think we need to change the controller"...

  14. Piro Silver badge

    So the sipping sage was right

    I don't see the problem here, liquid inspiration led to the correct answer in a flash!

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