back to article A character catastrophe for a joker working his last day

A warning in this week's edition of Who, Me? concerning the overuse of messaging and the dangers of a careless character or two. Or three. Our story today comes from a reader Regomized as "Dan" and takes us back to the 1980s, when he was working for a certain oil company. At his site were two IBM systems. One was for …

  1. Ordinary Donkey

    Nothing so severe

    The worst I had to deal with was a company who downsized a third of their (substantial) staff at once and on the last day the tannoy system seemed to be hijacked by tellytubbies.

    As in one joker grabbed the microphone and yelled "Tinky-Winky!" and others became inspired to follow suit.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Nothing so severe

      I worked for a high street DIY store years ago, and one evening it was near closing time. The forklift driver had enough of the customers milling about. He walked up to the tannoy and said "This is a customer announcement. This store is now closing. Could customers kindly fuck off home so we can close up. Thanks".

      He felt very proud of that, had even put on a bit of an accent so that he thought he couldn't be identified. Except the shift manager was standing behind him while he was doing it.

      1. b0llchit Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Nothing so severe

        So he promptly fucked off home... Well played.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nothing so severe

          Forked off, shirly?

          1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

            Re: Nothing so severe

            So he copied himself, one stayed at w**k to get bollocked, and the other went home?!? There must have been a GIT involved somewhere!

      2. logicalextreme Silver badge

        Re: Nothing so severe

        In the music shops I used to work in we'd take the front shutters down to just above head height about ten or fifteen minutes before closing, and post one staff member by the door with the key in the controls and their hand on the key.

        From this moment we'd play The Final Countdown* on repeat, and then turn the music and all the lights off on the dot of closing time.

        You'd be amazed (or actually probably not) how many proles each day, especially in the Trafford Centre, would fail to get the hint and continue browsing in silence and semi-darkness at 22:00 with two to four irate shop staff glaring at them.

        * Occasionally we'd start with a single play of another "gentle hint" song too depending on what was in stock, though Closing Time by Tom Waits is the only one I remember right now. We also tried some other tactics like playing some of the weirder Zappa or Beefheart albums, though dropped that after it backfired a few times (i.e. more people tried to come in, or people started asking what was playing and could they buy it and what other albums by them would we recommend).

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Nothing so severe

          Maybe classical music would have been more effective, especially modern classical.

          1. logicalextreme Silver badge

            Re: Nothing so severe

            There was often a fair dearth of classical music in regular stock, especially when I was working at Music Zones, though I guess we did manage to get a bit of 4'33" in right at the end…

          2. Rob Daglish Bronze badge

            Re: Nothing so severe

            I thought cruel and unusual punishments went out with the Geneva Convention?

            1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

              Re: Nothing so severe

              and behind the barn it promptly shot down the Geneva Convention

          3. Someone Else Silver badge

            Re: Nothing so severe

            No, no...classic country (e.g. from the 50's).

        2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

          Re: Nothing so severe

          One day, a group from work went to a local restaurant for lunch. The food was nice, and they were playing light background music. Then, they played Mel C's "Never be the same again", and it repeated. After about 5 playthroughs of the increasingly ironic sounding song, the fire alarm went off, and we were evacuated. We waited around a bit, and my colleague asked our waitress what had happened. Apparently, the CD player caught fire.

          So, we all went back to work, apart from our Unix admin who insisted on staying to pay the bill, clearly not knowing they were insured for the loss of earnings.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nothing so severe

            I bet the restaurant was never the same again...

        3. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Nothing so severe

          A landlord of one of our local pubs would play Irish folk music to get everyone to leave.

          Well, to get the tourists to leave. He knew that there was no way to get rid of the locals, so we'd just close the curtains and have a lock-in.

      3. irrelevant

        Re: Nothing so severe

        Many years ago, when the supermarkets had money to waste on such things, a nearby ASDA had a greeter who would wander about the store with a microphone linked to the tannoy, making announcements about special offers, discounts, etc. If he got called away for something, he had a habit of stashing the mike on the top shelf somewhere.

        This stopped after I was in one day and was suddenly greeted by the not-so-pleasant warbling of a very small child doing their best to bash out some unidentifiable song, amplified across the entire store. I can only presume he'd not hidden it well, or it had fallen off it's place, and been found by said youngster!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nothing so severe

      Working in Belfast in the 1980s, our building had a tannoy that was mostly used for announcements of the "Please evacuate the building by the xxx door" type. Usually false alarms, due to forgotten parcels, etc, but not always, so that initial "BingBong" would usually result in a rather tense silence while we waited for the next bit.

      One day we got:

      "BingBong - This is a te<crackle>"

      "BingBoncrunchcrackle"

      "Bing"

      "BingBawwwcrackle OH FOR FUCKS SAKE!"

      Even the visiting senior directors we had in the conference room at that moment were chuckling.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Nothing so severe

        Talking of Tannoy systems. one place I worked had such a system retrofitted. This was a 'budget' system, a simple continuous cable run along walls just above head height, with no individual speaker power control. Needless to say it was deafening in some areas while impossible to hear properly in others.

        Some wag hung a notice on the cable that read:

        "This is the tannoy. If it's too loud cut here".

        The manglement only took notice when some else did exactly that.

      2. Red Ted
        Go

        Re: Nothing so severe

        I know of a railway station announcer who on trying to announce the first train of the day had someone peer round the door to point out that they hadn't turned the amplifier on.

        So as they announced the second train of the day and the same person appeared in the office doorway, they assumed the worst and said something along the lines of:

        "I haven't turned this f***ing thing on again have I?"

        Except of course, they had!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nothing so severe

          That brings back some fond memories. There was a tannoy system at one place I worked that we used to put to good use.

          Back in the day, working shifts as operators, we used to take it in turns when the work quietened down to go find somewhere to get some sleep. Random places, whatever office was open with suitable chairs we could line up.

          When it came time to get up and do the final part of the shift, we'd use the tannoy to wake up whomever was sleeping.

          Then "Good Morning Vietnam" came out and I played that greeting at full blast at 06:00am and it was glorious!

        2. Eclectic Man Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: Nothing so severe

          There was briefly an excellent announcer at Reading Railway station. He had a 'Caribbean' accent, and, let's just a say not merely 'a way with words' but an excellent turn in honesty.

          "The 07:33 from Bracknell has been delayed, so all of you on Platform 4 are just going to have to wait."

          And suchlike.

          Used to brighten up my day no end.

          He didn't last long.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Nothing so severe

            Paddington Station, there was a young lady station announcer, whose voice just dripped honey with a blend of UK\US accents, asking politely if passengers waiting to board would wait to allow disembarking passengers off first, I saw people (Including me) stop & stand still just to listen to her.

            The other station announcer on the First Great Western Routes had a voice that was partly natural sounding, partly artificial, I always felt he was the voice artist understudy for Zen in Blakes 7.

          2. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Nothing so severe

            I worked in one place where they had a Baarbaaadian lady who had a voice that was tuned to the rotational frequency of testicles and was not allowed on the tannoy because things would be dropped and forklifts would crash and men would just walk into things when caught off guard. You had to write things down when going to ask her for something as her saying "Cean I help you" spun them fast enough to homogenise your brain.

          3. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: Nothing so severe

            My favourite was one of the train staff, I think Sri Lankan.

            "We will shortly be arrived in London Paddington, where this service will be terminated".

            1. ectel

              Re: Nothing so severe

              I was on a train ariving at 05:50 at London Liverpool Street. The train anouncment was "Wakey Wakey, rise and Shine! we are now ariving Liverpool Street"

          4. Scott 26

            Re: Nothing so severe

            was this 2000-2001 ish?

            I think I might have experienced that...

            And of course the tube tannoy saying "please let passengers off first.... oh to hell with it - do what you want"

    3. CuChulainn Silver badge

      Re: Nothing so severe

      At a local leisure centre where I used to play squash, there was a tannoy system which was used frequently - mainly to announce pool or gym closing and so on. Occasionally, there'd be messages in the evening for those in the bar who had called taxis or awaiting other pickup.

      I guess everyone will have seen that bit in Porky's where Pee Wee gets Wendy to call out 'has anyone seen Mike Hunt' in the diner.

      Somehow, someone got the receptionist to call that out across the centre's speakers. Not in the same way, of course, but 'Mike Hunt' was in there. At the time, Porky's was a fairly new film.

      She was quite embarrassed by it, as she was very straight-laced. Everyone else thought it was hilarious.

      The only thing is that in the UK, that name is relatively common, so it's easier to get people to use it without thinking.

      1. Vulch

        Re: Nothing so severe

        Back in my student days one of the porters came into the refectory and shouted loudly for Mike's brother Isaac...

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Nothing so severe

          According to legend, Margaret Dumont, the lady actress co-star in the Marx Brothers' films never understood Groucho's jokes. To his eternal credit he never explained them to her.

          So, for example, at the end of 'Duck Soup' where the brothers and Mrs Dumont are surrounded by an opposing army we have:

          Groucho: "Remember boys, you're fighting for this lady's honour!" [Sotto voce] "Which is probably more than she's ever done."

          1. aj68

            Re: Nothing so severe

            Back in the late 1980s, a group of us were travelling on a ferry from Italy to Greece. It was a long journey and every tannoy announcement was made in 5 languages, in order - Italian, Greek, French, English and German.

            One game was to try and guess the message before the English version was announced. What became funnier to a bunch of lads raised on 1960/1970s war movies was the fact that no matter how innocuous the announcement and how polite the English version was, e.g. "Please note the restaurant will be closing in 10 minutes", every message in German started with "Achtung! Achtung!"

            Cue lads responding "Dive dive dive" and throwing themselves on the floor.

            Happy days.

      2. sniperpaddy

        Re: Nothing so severe

        Guilty as charged

  2. KittenHuffer Silver badge
    Coat

    I'd say that ....

    .... he made a real hash of that joke!

    Enjoy them! I'm here all day!

    1. logicalextreme Silver badge

      Re: I'd say that ....

      His manager probably wanted to…pound him into a pulp. I'd imagine that even though it was his last day he at least got a…sharp talking-to.

      Er, er…octothorpe.

      1. My-Handle Silver badge

        Re: I'd say that ....

        You octothorpe harder about that joke.

        1. Swarthy Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: I'd say that ....

          ...Wow!

        2. logicalextreme Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: I'd say that ....

          Seconded. I am rightfully shamed

      2. ChrisC Silver badge

        Re: I'd say that ....

        "Er, er…octothorpe."

        I say, steady on there old chap, no need to descend into gutter vulgarity, you'll upset Matron.

        1. Rob Daglish Bronze badge

          Re: I'd say that ....

          Is it allowed to say we miss the Moderatrix?

          1. David Robinson 1

            Re: I'd say that ....

            <Alec Guinness voice>"Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time."

            1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: I'd say that ....

              "Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time."

              Which is hardly surprising, when you live in a desert hut by yourself.

          2. James O'Shea

            Re: I'd say that ....

            Ah. Queen Bee,, She Who Ruled. None of this 'reign' nonsense, just an absolute dictatorship. Certain commentards would not have lasted long before facing Her Royal Displeasure.

            Those were the days.

            1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: I'd say that ....

              Indeed. Certain denizens of these parts, with their complaints about "political correctness" and "wokeness" would receive a bollocking that would have them melting like a, uh, I forget the word . . . anyway, some kind of fragile crystalline ice lattice thingy . . . in the noonday son.

              1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
                Facepalm

                Re: I'd say that ....

                "noonday SUN"

                Goddamn auto-carrot

  3. KittenHuffer Silver badge

    Not final day antics ....

    .... but I have supported a PDP11/73 that was holding up a garage. A daily task for which was to run the backup setting script on the console. Unfortunately the script required the date and time for the backup to start to be typed in, and if this produced a date/time that was in the past the backup would kick in immediately! And the first task of the backup was to logout any terminals that remained logged in. Not good when this happened about once a quarter.

    So I ended up teaching myself RSTSE (in the pre-internet era) to tweak both scripts. The backup run scripts to give 10 minutes of warnings that a backup was going to start, so that I had time to finish my fag before sauntering back to the console to cancel that script. And then the backup setting script so that hitting enter twice would use todays date and 10pm as the date/time to start the next backup.

    I was loved (not literally [well I did end up marrying one of them!]) by the ladies in the office who would argue over who's turn it was to set the backup before those changes were made.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not final day antics ....

      "...holding up a garage..."

      Probably could, too...!

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Not final day antics ....

      a PDP11/73 that was holding up a garage.

      Did it have a balaclava on?

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Not final day antics ....

        No, just an interrupt mask.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Not final day antics ....

      "supported a PDP11/73 that was holding up a garage"

      It conjures up a sort of inverted pyramid/Atlas image.

    5. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Not final day antics ....

      I have, in my storehouse of vintage computing equipment, an SGI desktop that quite literally held up my manager's feet for several years. When he left (he came back later), he asked me if I wanted it, I replied that I did, and proceeded to spend a not insignificant amount of money (and time) on getting it operational again.

  4. DailyLlama
    Pint

    The company I worked for acquired another smaller company, and after a few months closed them down, making everyone redundant.

    When we turned up at the site to start collecting all the equipment up, one of the senior senior managers noticed a flashing light on a label printer, and asked someone what it meant. "Probably a paused print job", came the reply. So he pressed the button next to it, releasing a job of 5,000 labels saying "<company name> are c@nts!"

    Highly amusing for everyone except the manager...

  5. Solviva Bronze badge

    Do what?

    A system upgrade turned up within days to add a simple prompt [to the shutdown command]: "Do you really want to do this?"

    Do I really want to send that message I just wrote? Yes of course!

    Hope the confirmation message was actually a little more verbose...

    1. runt row raggy

      Re: Do what?

      slack asks just this if you add @here to your message (notifies everyone in the channel of a new message specifically for them).

      1. Solviva Bronze badge

        Re: Do what?

        In that case you are sending a message and I guess there's nothing else you could be doing when you hit enter?

        In the story, the user was indeed sending a message but unknowingly invoked shutdown, and so shutdown was initiated with no confirmation.

        The fix sounds like it just confirms you want to do what you *think* you're doing, i.e. in this case sending a message, rather than confirming that you want to do what you're actually doing, i.e. unintended shutdown tagged on to the end of a message.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Do what?

      I took it as the yes/no prompt was added to the 'shutdown' command, not the command to send messages.

      1. Solviva Bronze badge

        Re: Do what?

        Yes it was added to the shutdown command, but the fix as written didn't specify what command was requesting confirmation. So user thinks they're just sending a message, sees a message asking if they really want to do *this*, without saying what "this" is.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Do what?

          Yeah, but these where supposed to be mainframe operators, so should have a bit of a clue as to what they are doing. If the are you sure message never appears when sending a normal message, it ought to be enough to make them wonder why the are you sure response happened this time and look at the command they typed.

          1. Solviva Bronze badge

            Re: Do what?

            As evidenced in the story, it seems like they didn't know exactly what they were doing and were only being human :)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Senior manager came into the plant room that housed the aircon unit (massive thing, had two extremely large fans blowing air throughout the machine room/building). For some unknown reason, he decided to hit the power button and promptly shut down the aircon.

    Unfortunately no-one could get the aircon to restart! The machine room soon overheated and systems had to be shut down while frantic calls went out to the company that maintained the aircon unit. When the aircon guy arrived, he simply rotated a small non-descript silver collar on the power button, releasing it and restoring power the unit.

    Later that day a 'polite' notice on laminated paper was tacked to the control panel.....

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON

      arrgghhhhhh.... can't...... stop...... myself............

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        In my single digit years, I was firmly of the opinion that big red buttons were there to be pressed.

        My mother became quite an expert at making the two of us vanish.

      2. Mog_X

        Arthur Dent: What happens if I press this button?

        Ford Prefect: I wouldn't-

        Arthur Dent: Oh.

        Ford Prefect: What happened?

        Arthur Dent: A sign lit up, saying 'Please do not press this button again.”

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          In my early teaching days I used a bunch of BBC micros a lot. But for the afternoon session I had to do a lot of setting up in the lunch hour and then leave the machines ( for some reason or other.) So for the first week or two I left a sign displayed on all the screens saying "Do not touch".

          And a programme running, paused at a press any key command. Of course when some little year 7 so-and-so touched the keys it ran all sorts of sound effects, flashing screens and a warning message Which stayed there so I could see it had been triggered.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying 'End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH', the paint wouldn't even have time to dry.”

          Terry Pratchett, Small Gods.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      A "Senior management keep out" notice on the door of the plant room might have been even better.

      1. ARGO

        We had a similar rule when I worked in academia - never let a professor into the lab.

        1. logicalextreme Silver badge

          Over the past few years I've also learned: never let a "data scientist" into the database (any database).

        2. ChrisC Silver badge

          Ugh, flashbacks to my degree years - our second year hardware project was ready for demonstrating to the lecturer, in he strolls, looks at the results we'd already taken, says something like "let's have a look at the rising edge on such and such a signal", picks up the scope probes, pokes the wrong part of the circuit, and promptly lets out the magic smoke from one of the 4 parallel switching channels required for the circuit to achieve the specified performance target...

          Still, at least he didn't then try to weasel out of owning his mistake - based on the results we'd gathered up to that point, plus the results we were still able to get from the remaining 3 channels that were unaffected, he marked the project as if it'd been a complete success. And TBH, what he taught us that day about not letting senior-but-less-technical people anywhere near your creations (unless you're trying to work out what needs to be done to make them more idiot-proof) was probably as valuable a lesson as anything we learned in the lecture theatres.

    3. The Mighty Spang

      hit the right button

      just by the operator exit door at wait level we had a green mushroom button with "unlock door" on it.

      above the door was a red mushroom button with "master stop computers" on it

      for some reason, one day 'Doris' (a guy called D Morris) who had been in that room hundreds of times, hit master stop computers.

      I don't think even he knew why,

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: hit the right button

        You know that fleeting impulse you get where your brain suggests doing something you know you would never actually do, like "what if I climbed over this bridge railing and jumped?"

        Maybe he's got a malfunction in his brain wiring so one time he didn't stop himself from pushing that red button like a normal person would. If so, I expect at some point he died when he randomly swerved his car into an oncoming truck and right before it hit him even he didn't know why he'd done it.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: hit the right button

          As a young info security consultant, I visited a client site to assess their security for various IT systems. One system was particularly valuable, so the door access was on a completely different access control system, not just privileged but different shaped cards with optical, rather than magnetic identification. So someone with access to the main site access control system could not even accidentally give someone access to this system. (It was air gapped, etc. etc., the server room had no windows so was immune to attacks using hydrofluoric acid which dissolves glass.)

          Anyway, I was really impressed with their security, but inside there was the archetypal BIG RED BUTTON. So I kept my hands firmly in my pockets and stayed well away from it. 'Coz I had the URGE, you know, THAT urge. Hard work, being a consultant, sometimes.

          But I'm better now, honestly. ;o)

          (Don't worry, happy ending.)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: hit the right button

          I must honestly admit to this impulse. Especially the desire to touch the table saw blade as it's spinning at full speed. Never given in, though, thank goodness.

      2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: hit the right button

        Which is why, in any sensibly designed and implemented system, the "emergency stop" or "fill the room with extinguisher gas" buttons should be behind break glass of lift up covers.

        Reminds me of a time when I was with a mate back when he did some rallying. Another competitor was just going through scrutineering as we arrived - and the scrutineer asked him to demonstrate the external emergency power off (battery disconnector) which is commonly a T-handle that when pulled will knock off the battery isolator inside. There's also often a similar T-handle that triggers the plumbed in fire extinguisher. At which point I suspect many are ahead of me here.

        The labels were on the bonnet which was up, and he'd pulled the wrong handle. When we arrived, there was white foam running out the doors and dribbling on the floor - and the scrutineers wryly saying something along the lines fo "I don't think you meant to do that".

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: hit the right button

        This is why I insist that such things have covers

        When asked why, a practical demonstration usually makes the point

    4. Terry 6 Silver badge

      So there was a restricting device on the a/c that didn't stop it being accidentally turned off, but then made it difficult and obscure to turn back on.

      My first thought "Someone got paid to design this??!!"

      But then a deeper anger welled up inside me. About the number of hours and hours I've spent over the years because undoing some accidental or involuntary change of some setting or other was much more difficult and obscure than the original turning it off had been.

      There has to be a bloody good reason for making a setting that's easy to set one way but difficult to reset back to the other one.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Well, normally if it's an Emergency stop button, the collar is to prevent some jerkass from turn it back on and potentially killing someone that's half-inside the machine trying to fix it. (although there's supposed to be lock-out/tag-out for that as well, but...)

        And buttons with rotating collars normally have markings as such as well, but I could understand if the markings had worn off it over the years.

        They are also much more expensive than normal mushroom buttons, so it's not a cost thing.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          On some of the machines at work, the big red stop buttons do not disengage. There is a little keyhole in the middle.

          So the person who pressed the button has to go to the line manager, who has to go to the production manager, who has to call out the maintenance manager, who gets his guys to take the thing apart and check it thoroughly for potential faults, missing pieces, etc. This takes about two hours in the middle of a busy production (because it needs recalibrated, and maybe new belts).

          Meanwhile all of the managers and the culprit are filling out a long and detailed report of exactly what happened. When the maintenance manager is satisfied with both the state of the machine and the report, he'll get a key from a special locked box and unlock the emergency stop button.

          The process was designed to be obstructive and arduous in order to ensure that people treat it as an emergency stop and not an "I'm too lazy to do it properly" button. Especially given that the machine shuts down as quickly as physically possible (almost always naffing up calibration, and in some cases breaking drive belts).

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            The emergency stop (if it really is an amergency stop) MUST go to a lockout device SOMEWHERE ELSE

            If not, this is how people het killed

            Ditto not having lockout devices on any kit which can be remotely livened up when people are working on it

            _ANYONE_ who attempts to bypass a padlock, etc on safety kit should be charged with attempted murder "pour encourager les autres"

        2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

          Used to work withba former Navy radar tech. Said more than once some jerkwad would put the fuse/circuit breaker* in to start the antenna rotator, without wondering why it was pulled, while he was working on it. He'd ger about 5 seconds warning before it would start spinning and if he wasn't out in time anything above the hatch stayed while everything below... didn't. Got to where he'd put the fuse/circuit breaker in his pocket before putting a personally owned padlock on the box.**

          * I can't remember which, been too many years

          ** Could have been talking bollocks, he was the type, but it made for an entertaining story. It became especially entertainibg to think about how nice it would have been had he not made it in time, because then he'd never have been inflicted on me. One of THOSE kind of people.***

          ***Annoying as hell, if I wanted upbeat I'd have been on day shift.

          1. James O'Shea

            Something similar was part of the plot of Alistar MacLean's "HMS Ulysses", his first novel, his first and last story about the Russian convoys in mid WWII. Senior electrical rating Ralston has showed up extremely stupid Sublieutenant Carslake several times, and the Sub is going to have his revenge. Ralston is up the main mast, playing with the radio, having taken the 'Safe to Transmit' boards down and notifying the officer of the deck. While he's up on the mast someone needs to send an urgent message; Carslake hands them the 'Safe to Transmit' boards, and the message gets sent, roughly 45 seconds after Ralston gets down from the mast. Ralston thumps Carslake good. The senior officers are forced to have Ralston arrested for striking a vastly inferior officer, but their hearts aren't in it. (MacLean was in the RN in the war, and it shows) Later on, Ralston is back on duty, while Carslake gets what he deserves... shortly before the Commander takes Ulysses in, battle ensign flying, at 44 knots, to attempt to ram a Hipper cruiser, the Admiral and the Captain being dead, 'X' turret out of action with the remnants of a German bomber draped around it, 'B' turret firing only starshell because that was all they had left.

            1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

              "playing" with the radio?

              Anyway... the ending is a different spin on your last day at work...

          2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            I read a story where that sort of thing was an issue, but it was modern U.S. Navy (actually outer space... sort of) and they had a procedure like this:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockout–tagout

            And in the story there was a software AND a hardware error, each of which caused this version's dual lock out to be ineffective, with hideous consequences.

            Oh, well.

            1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

              Yes, the lockout system is well established and well known across all industry sectors - although not all older kit actually has facilities for lockout.

              For the TL;DR version - basically you disable/turn off something, put a lock on it, and take the key with you while you are working. In theory, that physically prevents anyone from powering something up/starting it while you are inside not that it stops someone just taking a bolt cutter to the lock (which has happened).

              I've had a few tales over the years.

              The oldest goes back to when communicating with north sea rigs meant using tropospheric scatter - put a microwave transmitter on top of the east coast cliffs and put out lots of power so that some of it will scatter off the particles in the air and reach the rig over the horizon. Narrow peaks, but peak power measured in megawatts. One of these was being commissioned, and someone had to do some work inside the waveguide - and being before lockouts were a thing, all he could do was remove the fuses, hang up a sign, and take the fuses with him. While he's busy working, someone else comes along, ignores the signs, assumed some **** has stolen the fuses, and finds some spares in the back of his van. The guy in the waveguide realises what's happening and manages to get out, but not before the microwave energy has done to the vitreous humour in the eye what boiling an egg does to the white.

              In another case, a friend of mine had a job to do fixing a machine in a Lancashire mill. The electrics were old and had no lockoff facility - so again he switched off and hung up a sign. Gets to the machine to find the power is on - goes back to the switchroom to find the sign on the floor and the switch on. After a few rounds of this, he switches off and hangs the sign, then stands behind the door - and very quickly another machine operator comes in, throws the sign on the floor, switches on the power, then finds himself on the floor after a well aimed punch. Turns out one supply fed several machines, and they were all on piece rate - so keeping going trumps anyone else's safety. The operator was escorted off the site and told not to come back, my mate was escorted off the site for his own safety !

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                "not that it stops someone just taking a bolt cutter to the lock (which has happened)."

                I've seen it happen.

                I've also seen the people responsible escorted off the premises - in handcuffs in the back of a police car

                Ignorance is NOT protection against a manslaughter charge

                1. John PM Chappell

                  Likewise, though I did not personally witness it, was just made aware after the fact and got the details from those who were actually on site.

                  Legally speaking, it falls under "knowingly" which tends to get a much more severe response from a court than "recklessly", since you clearly knew you should not have done it.

  7. The Vociferous Time Waster

    get-aduser | set-aduser

    I spent some time at a well known retail client a few years ago and we got a similarly unplanned lunch break when one of the service desk guys wrote a small script to change user passwords using powershell. As he was not a developer he completely bypassed user input sanitisation and error handling and basically strung the get-aduser commandlet (which gets user objects) and the set-aduser commandlet (which changes attributes, for example the password) together with a variable instead of a pipe.

    At some time before lunch he ran his script and, as it was taking a bit of time to run, scuttled off to lunch. Over his hour lunch break those of us who ate at our desks started getting the 'windows needs your current credentials' message pop up on our computers inviting us to lock and unlock our desktops.

    What had transpired, it seems, is that he had fallen victim to a classic faux pas - the get-aduser commandlet will assume, if you do not specify a filter, that you want every user object. "get-aduser jsmith" will return the object matching that name whereas "get-aduser" on its own will return an object containing every user object in the director (unless the command is scoped in another way). Fortunately for our hero he had scoped the command to an OU that was UK head office only and didn't extend to international users, store users, or more importantly the service accounts upon which the business ran. Around 3000 people had their passwords reset and it took quite a while to fix the issue. As everyone had their password set the same they couldn't just tell people that the password was "ChangeMe123" because that meant that anyone could access any account. The passwords had to all be reset again to something unique to the user (DoB and NI number I recall) so that it could be communicated widely. There was then the 2 day password retention rule that prevented anyone changing their password for a couple of days afterwards.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

      "The passwords had to all be reset again to something unique to the user (DoB and NI number I recall) so that it could be communicated widely. There was then the 2 day password retention rule that prevented anyone changing their password for a couple of days afterwards."

      Errr. The passwords were set to something that was, at least in theory, knowable by others and then prevented a change by the user? Surely the requirement should have been to enforce a change on next login.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

      There was then the 2 day password retention rule that prevented anyone changing their password for a couple of days afterwards.

      After getting a lot of requests from the users in one particular branch of AD for help changing their passwords I decided for finally get to the bottom of how policies are set and how to read them etc so I could find out exactly what rules the server boys had set.

      Server boys being actually able to tell you what password rules they've set doesent seem to be a thing at any of the places Ive worked at .

      "Oh ... yeah ... its gotta be 8 chars long and have a funny symbol , and not be your username ... plus some other shit"

      ...is the kind of reply I'm used to getting . So I learned how to extract this info from AD.

      ...and is this case they had made it impossible, and also mandatory, for the users at an entire site to change their passwords.

      My reward for this stunning bit of diagnostic faultfinding and site wide problem solving? Complete indifference .They didnt believe me . It was only weeks later after mounting anger relayed by managers of desktop and helpdesk that it got fixed !

      1. logicalextreme Silver badge

        Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

        A lot of the time the reasons for AD password policies are crappy defaults and/or crappy recommendations from Microsoft (the latter especially when it comes to password length/"complexity").

        1. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

          Well, crappy NOW; back then, the longer the password and the more complex it was meant that it would take something like l0phtcrack longer to brute force the damn thing, because things like rainbow tables didn't exist, and you couldn't rent compute time in order to brute force a password file overnight like you can now.

          But now? pass phrases, the longer the better.

          Some of our password policies at [RedactedCo] are actually requirements from the regulatory agency and the local government that allows us to even exist.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

            Our captain of servers, who is also the guy that decides pwd policy told me re pass phrase security.

            "A pass phrase of 5 words is no more complicated than a password of 5 letters to a guy with a dictionary"

            I've only just realised while typing this how wrong that is!

            1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

              Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

              Each letter in an English sentence is about 1 bit of uncertainty, on average. So you might just as well make every password a random, binary number.

              And that's if it's not a famous sentence such as "It is a truth universally acknowledged".

              I use random letters (with spacing) which are good for about 4 bits per key stroke. If punctuation is compulsory, I put some in. If spaces aren't allowed - really? - I pause to rest.

          2. david 12 Silver badge

            Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

            The good bit about 2003 MS password complexity was that it didn't let you use your own name. If I could have set it to do just that, I wouldn't have disabled it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

        A lot of people are going to read about that policy at your workplace, and go, "Oh, hi, Bob."

        (I don't like to be called Bob.)

    3. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

      I never ever use the get/set combination in any code. It's just just too easy to be defeated by muscle memory and press the wrong first letter. I also try to find combinations that are phonetically different.

      1. logicalextreme Silver badge

        Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

        I'd stay away from Powershell then. There are much stronger reasons to stay away from it, but it uses Get and Set verbs quite a lot.

        That said, I'd hope that simply testing code would usually catch any bugs as significant as those caused by a get swapped with a set, including the one mentioned in the article.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

          PowerShell is very useful however it's use is often crippled by:

          • Code being written by amateur coders; i.e. testing and error handling just does not happen. This is particularly true for almost every code example out there. Code is assumed to work, to be run once ever and never repeatable.
          • PowerShell modules written by amateur coders, where testing and error handling just does not happen. There are standard error handling components in commands defined within PowerShell, but these are often forgotten about and ignored and instead the sorry excuse for coders emit unhandled exceptions instead which result in pure gibberish error messages. Many of Microsoft's own modules are written this badly.
          • Where the functions only do part of the actual management required, which means that tortuous C# objects have to be created alongside direct WMI manipulation just to finish the task

      2. nintendoeats Silver badge

        Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

        I agree, generally I try to make sure that code which behaves the same looks the same, and code that behaves different looks different. Control and Inquire are certainly very different!

        Also, as noted by Kevlin Henney, get and set are two of the most overloaded words in the english language.

        1. disgruntled yank

          Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

          I believe that James Murray got to the point of wondering with he would ever be done with the entry for "set" in the Oxford English Dictionary.

        2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

          xxxx_read() and xxxx_write() ( or _rd() and _wr() )

          With the added advantage that all the xxxx functions are alphabetically together, instead of having all the GetXXXX listed then all the SetXXXX listed. I don't *CARE* what other GETs there are, I want to know what functions I can use to manipulate the XXXX entity.

          1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

            Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

            Agree, noun_verb() for the win. The MS style guide specifically recommends verb_noun().

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

      Anonymous for a reason!

      We had feed in from our HR to a AD system, just stuff like names, marital status, office locations, the pretty simply stuff. Well one day someone decided to make a fully santioned chaneg controlled change and they left a single comma out of the AD PowerShell command which resulted in 1400 users having their home city reset to a a dummy city. It then did a clean up and locked up every account it found in the "dead city" state!

      Cue 1am call out to AD admin 'cos not a single person could login from anywhere in the world, even the VPNs were controlled by AD! So all remote access. We were even on the brink of changing the building security to use AD link account statuses, luckily we didn't! 40 mile drive for AD admin to login at server console, boot into safe mode, restore back all user accounts and then an absolute bollocking for the bellend that, despite paperwork, didn't get someone to QA the really minor code change.

      1. My-Handle Silver badge

        Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

        Sounds remarkably similar to a fault at Facebook a year or so ago. Every bit of security, from remote login to door locks, used the same core system. Which, when they mucked up their backbone routing (I forget exactly how) went offline.

        Service went down worldwide. No-one could remote in. No-one could open a damn door on site. And no-one apparently understood what a single point of failure was.

      2. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

        You'd think people never heard of the -Whatif flag that's standard on almost every powershell commandlet, which will tell you what it would have done if you left that flag off.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

          That's assuming that the amateur coder who vomited out the implementation of the PowerShell commandlet bothered with implementing -Whatif. Most don't even bother with the error handling, so I'm not exactly going to trust that they might have managed to code the WhatIf processing correctly either.

    5. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

      (DoB and NI number I recall)

      I sincerely hope the date format of DoB was also communicated (six or eight digits, which seperator if any, sequence of the parts), sufficient room for confusion and error.

      1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

        it was communicated in milliseconds from the birth of the current universe

        1. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

          it was communicated in milliseconds from the birth of the current universe

          As a 32-bit unsigned long?

    6. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

      "There was then the 2 day password retention rule that prevented anyone changing their password for a couple of days afterwards."

      So for two days everyone's password was the same (except for those few who had recently changed their password). Then for another two days everyone's password could be easily phished. How many days would it have taken to update the password retention rule?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: get-aduser | set-aduser

        I expect it only limits YOU changing your own password. I.T. would not be blocked. ...surely?

        For a while, one of my work passwords didn't come with expiry warning, it just didn't work one day - so whenever that day came, I had to find Mr. I.T. so that he could start changing my password... And he would hand me his keyboard so that I could set it to my choice. So, that could have been worse.

  8. stiine Silver badge

    Ah, the old days

    I can remember using the system console as a chat server. Quite limited in that you could only chat with the operators, but very handy if you wanted to avoid driving in to work, or walking downstairs*... Almost as handy as 'cat /dev/tty1 > /dev/tty2' when a sysadmin who decided you didn't need root on /his/ system....needed to show you output on his rather broken system.

    * - With the downside that the data center manager examined the console logs daily and thus asking the night operator out on a date via system console was heavily frowned upon**.

    ** - because she was, in fact, married to someone other than me...

    1. Pete B
      Joke

      Re: Ah, the old days

      *** bonus if it was the data centre manager she was married to.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ah, the old days

        At next login...

        "Hmm. All my files are missing. And there's this new README..."

    2. Andytug

      Good old Novell Networks

      ...also had a messaging feature, which we used from time to time, sometimes for individual messages and occasionally for group ones.

      We discovered one day that it re-allocated system user ID's on the basis of one logged off, next logon got the same ID. How did we find this out? Two of the PFYs were messaging one another from opposite sides of the desk, one logged off to stop the messages. Then we got a phone call from a PHB wanting to know why his PC had just flashed up a message to "Stop it!" as soon as he logged on. Just as well it wasn't something worse......

  9. TeaLeaf

    SOP on z/VM

    I still work on IBM z/VM, and I was the perpetrator of an unscheduled shutdown when I thought I was shutting down the second-level test system. Shortly after, I created my first SHUTDOWN EXEC to trap the command. Something like this is a rite of passage for every VM sysprog.

  10. TonyJ Silver badge

    BSoD screen saver on Exchange

    One site had that BSoD screen saver on their Exchange (5.5 if I recall - definitely it didnt like cold shutdowns) server.

    We even had the chat about it being a bad idea. What if someone takes it seriously? Oh no..everyone here knows it is a screen saver.

    One of my colleagues walked in, saw it said "oops!" and power cycled it, because he was new to site and didn't notice it was a screen saver.

    Much finger pointing later - I'd thankfully had the conversation partly over emailemail - I thought it was a bad idea for that very reason, that screen savers like that nick tesources, etc etc

    Funnily enough they had a policy in place after that banning it and anything like it.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: BSoD screen saver on Exchange

      The old Windows shut-down screen said "blah blah... you may now turn off the power". Way WAY too many people interpreted this as "I need to use the computer, to do so I have to turn it off and back on again", so one of my earliest Windows fixes was to change that to say "blah blah... or Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to restart".

  11. Oglethorpe

    In the heady days of 2002 I was shown the joys of net send by a fellow student. Eventually, and after several embarrassing site-wide messages (recipient of '*') our access to command prompt was cut. An enterprising student, with the help of a little coding, made an Excel spreadsheet that let users regain access to the function. One thing he failed to mention was its use of a counter; after the 10th message (from opening), whatever was sent next would be sent to everyone, with some vulgar language tacked on the end. It took a surprisingly long time for this to be discovered.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah, pipes, pipes, pipes...

    We had an obnoxious DB lead developer who enjoyed great praise from our customer. He requested to have sudo access to root instead of a subset of commands, as we UNIX overlords used to grant to everyone else. So as the customer is always right, we granted him the ability to sudo su -.

    Then we started dealing with unexpected reboots in our production boxes, which in turn made the customer point the finger at us. I gathered the team, talked them calmly, and asked if anyone had slipped an involuntary reboot command somehow. None of the guys acknowledged the mistake, so I had to resort to looking over the secondary logging entries. The puzzling part were those reboots happening off our usual 9 to 5 schedule, but on the much more convenient India time our star DB developer lived in.

    So there I was, sitting with a fellow admin looking at the secondary logs, and we saw how this guy was using a lot of the accounts of his DB team colleagues to log into the production boxes and then switching to his own account to ultimately switch to root, which made me mad as hell. I was red with anger, trying to gather as much evidence of this guy's wrongdoings as to warrant an instant layoff, and in the mare magnum of grep commands and redirecting stdout to new log files, I typed

    # last | reboot

    Which evidently took one of the nodes of the database production cluster down, cascading a myriad of messaging, pager and email alerts.

    In the end, I chilled my head, wrote an email acknolwedging my mistake, while also detailing the reasons leading to it, and attaching a copious amount of evidence about the poor identity management procedures displayed by our star DB dev.

    I got a slap on my wrist, he got stripped of his sudo privileges, and we all moved along.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ah, pipes, pipes, pipes...

      I'd be willing to bet that your star user was thinking that if he logged in as someone else, then su, that if something went sideways the person he logged in as would get the shaft.

      I used to do the same, when I wanted to do something dodgy, because if it went tits up I didn't want to be the one in trouble. Don't do it anymore, seeing as these days you can ID the terminal used. Course these days I know what works and what doesn't.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ah, pipes, pipes, pipes...

        Indeed, that was the case. Wanna hear the worst part of it? A fellow US sysadmin taught out star DB dev that trick. That asshole (Hey Matt, I hope you're doing well these days, you scumbag!) used to log in while our junior sysadmins were executing scheduled changes, to perform other modifications sketchily arranged with the customer on the side. So if something would go bork, it'd be somebody elses' fault, instead of his. And we're talking ODM mods on AIX servers here, the equivalent of punching regedit commands on Windows...

        This all ended when I demanded him to log off the server I was working on or else I would mark the change request as failed and expose him in front of the manglement.

  13. Plest Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Do not piss about in prod!

    I've had my share of cockups and I've suffered that awful "blood drain from face" effect of making a f**king huge cock-up.

    My Dad worked in boiler rooms for a living in the 1980s and he would often take me in and explain what was going on and he would always say, "Son, you never lark about in a boiler room. Too many hot pipes, too many moving parts, you're going to get burned or lose fingers. It's not a place to piss about!". I've taken that same attitude into my IT career, you never piss about near a prod system. You can joke in the team chats and voice calls if you need some light relief from the stress, when you have a prod interface open, get serious or f**k off and get another job!

    I cannot help but cringe when I watch others just cut and pasting commands into prod command lines, it scares the hell of out of me. Once extra character, next thing it's "P1 city" and a long protracted team call with some very irate managers, plus the washup meets!

    1. DS999 Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Do not piss about in prod!

      Perhaps over the years I would have seen fewer people making dumb mistakes to reboot production systems instead of the one they intended if it would result in losing fingers.

      With the bonus that with fewer fingers it would take them longer to type commands in the future, giving them more time to think! Maybe I'm onto something here...

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Do not piss about in prod!

        Nope , does'nt work.... they're usually 2 fingered typists anyway... so lopping 4 or 5 off does'nt work.

        And in my game, making the sort of mistake that can lead to losing fingers DOES actually mean losing fingers.

        Such as taking the safety gate key out of the office to unlock one of the gates while things are in motion just to retrieve an earbud thats rolled under the gate.......without noticing the label on the key that says "Only to be removed from this office by in the presence of Boris"

        1. EVP
          Devil

          Re: Do not piss about in prod!

          Cut off index fingers first. No more two-fingered typing. That’ll teach ‘em.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    could see this happening

    "the operators still managed to communicate without having to physically talk to each other using the cp msg command. A simple enough thing that permitted chatting via the console."

    I could see it coming after this sentence. the msg command (Unix) and this "cp msg", here, are really no IM replacement.

    I always refrained from using them except for their sole purpose, asking everyone to save work before an incoming offline work (patching, shutdown, etc ...)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ESC in VMS

    acted as return. Something I discovered when I joking typed "DEL *" in a terminal where a friend had their coursework assembler stored.

    Thank $deity they had a printout from a few minutes before.

    Two hours of typing it back in .

  16. aerogems Silver badge

    Long, long ago, in what seems like another life, I was working part-time at a fast food place. They had just gotten these fancy new LCD touch-screen POS terminals that were all tied to a server running in the back drive through booth. Don't remember how anymore, but I figured out if you tapped the upper right corner three times it would bring up a dialog box to change the date and time.

    Fast forward to a day when it was rather slow and I decided to pull up that dialog on an unused terminal to see how long before someone noticed. Unknown to me, that was stopping all orders from showing up in the kitchen. As traffic picked up in the drive through, the people handing out the orders kept asking why there was nothing coming from the kitchen. The kitchen kept saying nothing was showing up on the screen to make. Eventually someone found the date/time dialog, canceled out of it, and pretty much immediately the kitchen was flooded with orders.

    For my part, I just did my best innocent whistling routine and never said a thing to anyone about it.

    As a side note, the server in the back room had a sort of ad-hoc messaging system. It would run a screen that was intended more for log output, but people figured out you could type in it without disrupting the program.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Six months into my first job out of college, I caused a system-wide mainframe outage

    Six months into my first job out of college I caused a system-wide mainframe outage.

    The company did not have a source code management system. Every developer had their own PDS to unit test in before merging in to a shared PDS.

    PDS members kept being modified and disappearing from my PDS and I was getting annoyed. I figured one of the other newbies was pranking me so thought ok two can play this game. I embedded some code in the default edit macro to delete all the datasets under the users TSO profile prefix if the user was not me and the dataset was owned by me.

    I come in Monday morning and everyone is talking about how the entire systems programming team spent the weekend recovering system datasets because the storage admin had been using the of the special system id and deleted all the system datasets. I thought nothing of it until I was paid a visit by a gruff elderly gentleman who was the senior MVS systems programmer. He had pieced together what happened from SMF records. He gave me a bit of dressing down. I was having visions of getting canned, instead he winked and told me it was our secret. The storage admin was moved to a position of making Travel arrangements. It seems she was not well liked and rather enjoyed messing with people.

  18. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Doing student support, I used to see the over use of messaging regularly. Every year, someone would discover how to use the Net Send command on Windows to send a message to the entire domain. Everyone thinks it's funny to send a random message, even if it's just "Hi", but it's not. It's annoying if you get several in a row, so we did ask for the option to send messages to be blocked. We were told that it wouldn't happen, as it would cause problems with various Uni systems. Of course, they could not be specific and say *which* Uni systems, and while I didn't have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the systems in use, I wasn't aware of *any* that used the Windows messaging service, so I suspect it was a case of someone either didn't have the time, or couldn't be bothered to test the systems.

    When a student sent a message to the domain telling everyone he was going to rape them, shit got serious. We were asked to track down who had sent the message, and they were asked to see their school head. Don't know what happened to them, but I assume they were kicked out. All of a sudden, our systems team agreed to do what they could to block the message sending feature.

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