back to article Just follow the instructions … no wait, not that instruction to lock everyone out of everything

Welcome, gentle reader, to another instalment of Who, Me? in which Regizens recount records of rancor and remorse. This week, a tale of instructions designed to make life easy that did, in fact, nothing of the sort. Our story starts with "Harry" who, back in that far-off time we call "the day," was an install engineer – a …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a) The manual was out of date the day it was published

    b) The manual was written by a tech writer and sales reps

    'nuff said.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Never ever trust a manual you have not written yourself, got lost, found again, buried in soft peat for three months and digested by the Beast of Traal.

      1. Totally not a Cylon Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Would that the smaller cousin of the Bugblatter beast or its larger cousin?

        I can't check the guide its currently updating......

        1. b0llchit Silver badge

          It is the Ravenous one.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Ah. Wolverine's second cousin... (I only reference him 'cause he's a CANADIAN BORN CHARACTER!)

      2. WonkoTheSane

        You missed the "recycled as firelighters" stage.

        1. b0llchit Silver badge

          Neither was it filed in triplicate and subjected to public inquiry.

          However, the poetry of the instructions are exquisite and keep everybody else at a distance.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      It can be worse

      The manual was written by a tech writer and sales reps

      The manual could have been originally written in Chinese, and poorly translated to English (Chingrish is what I've heard the resulting product referred to as)

      My girlfriend and I just installed a fandelier (the fancy term for ceiling fans with lights these days, apparently...I hadn't heard it before but she looked at me funny when I said that lol) in the bedroom of her new house last night.

      Not only did the manual barely touch on how to put everything together beyond a couple crude drawings, the instructions were comically bad. It referred to the electrical neutral as "zero line" and hot as "performing line", but fortunately the wire insulation colors made it obvious what was what. The remote control was called "distant switch", or at least that's what we guessed.

      Fortunately we had just installed a different fandelier in her living room last week, and even though they were different brands (the other had detailed instructions that were either originally written in English or translated by a fluent speaker of both languages) and it was similar enough we figured it out after we stopped laughing at the tiny sheet they'd provided.

  2. MJB7

    "Who? Me?" is one of my favourite columns on El Reg, but the stories seem to have got a lot less dramatic recently. Time to take a break?

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      I have to agree. +1. Perhaps all the good stories have been told? They are relying on reader contributions for the stories*. However, this is really just part of the vanillaization (the opposite of vandalization?) of El Reg, now known as

      *I know I don't see some user handles in the comments any longer. Have they gone AC? Doubtful, they probably aren't visiting and this brain drain is affecting the quality of columns like Who? Me? and On Call.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        There's been a lot of bans handed out to those who criticise the jump towards the alt-right that has been made.

        1. Excellentsword (Written by Reg staff)

          Every second comment you post accuses someone or something of being Nazi and you get moderated accordingly. Seriously, get a hobby.

          1. Loyal Commenter

            The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

            1. Elongated Muskrat

              What's the objection there from the down-voter? The Shakespeare quote, or the chastising of Dave Gibberish's constant poor-quality trolling?

              edit - I'm the same poster BTW, I thought it might be time for a name refresh, partly as an experiment to see if those systemic single downvotes are powered by GREP...

              1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                Why do you care? Any why using a different account for this post?

          2. Korev Silver badge

            Do you need to get the Moderatrix back?

            1. WolfFan Silver badge

              This would be a good idea.

              1. RM Myers

                This would be a GREAT idea. FTFY.

            2. Michael Strorm Silver badge

              I forget- was "The Moderatrix" the second or the third film?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward


          3. WolfFan Silver badge

            This is his hobby.

          4. Steve Hersey

            It usually pays to be wary of accounts with utterly nonsensical names...

          5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            I'd like him to describe what alt-right is. Logically, alt-right would be left, but I don't think that's what he means. Maybe he has two rights and is getting a wrong?

            1. Someone Else Silver badge

              C'mon John, that's way too much for this early on a Monday! - - - ->

            2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

              Oh look, a sealion.

              1. WolfFan Silver badge

                It’s amazing how those who can’t support their positions see sealions everywhere.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  And sheep. They see a lot of sheep.

                  Perhaps they need a trek to the optician's?

            3. swm Silver badge

              My keyboard has both an alt-left and an alt-right. Which should I be using?

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                How odd. All mine have an Alt left and an Alt GR right. :-)

                Atl GR for Grrrrrrrr!!!!! :-)

              2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                I mapped my alt-right to compose, which might be the first time the alt-right has been composed.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The most obvious rebuttal is to note that you're the only person I've seen ranting about this alleged move to the "alt right"(!), and yet- aside from some of your more inflammatory/unhinged comments getting removed- you're still free to post shite like this!

          Said it before and I'll say it again- if you think that the Register is "alt-right"(!) even today, you're either a troll or the left-wing counterpart of the US Conservatives who think their Democratic party is "Marxist". (Or the former masquerading as the latter).

          The only major jump "El Reg" has made in recent years is their clear attempt to make it far less obviously a UK-based publication and aim it more at the US audience.

          1. tekHedd

            I'm so tired...of the U. S. A.

            "The only major jump "El Reg" has made in recent years is their clear attempt to make it far less obviously a UK-based publication and aim it more at the US audience."

            Speaking as a member of that audience, note that this move to become "less UK" has made el reg considerably less appealing. It's not like there's a shortage of "US" over here. :P

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I'm so tired...of the U. S. A.

              Another USAian who agrees. Make it feel like a UK publication, that's where all the charm was!

              1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                Re: I'm so tired...of the U. S. A.

                Where is the money though...

                But I think that an element of good British journalistic cynicism is still present.

                1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                  Re: I'm so tired...of the U. S. A.

                  You need to earn, at least, three times as much money to have the same social security level. Better four times, so you can afford a few guards for your house, though that depends on the region you will live in.

            2. david 12 Silver badge

              Re: I'm so tired...of the U. S. A.

              As an Australian, I started reading The Register ( to get an off-shore point of view. I'm not particularly upset to see spelling and word-choice variants, but I sympathize with American readers if you are missing UK specific content.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I'm so tired...of the U. S. A.

              As a Canadian, I'll second that. I appreciated the UK/EU nature of the Reg's news feeds. We don't get much of that information out of our local navel-gazing media...

        3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          jump towards the alt-right ??

          This is news to me .

          You must have sheltered internet to have not seen the wild rabid Maga consiarcy theory rubbish vomited up on many other sites in volume

        4. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

          There's been a lot of bans handed out to those who criticise the jump towards the alt-right that has been made.

          What has utterly confused me is that you have labelled things the left and liberals have done, or would be ideologically inclined to do, as alt-right ideology.

          While willing to accept the very-far-left and very-far-right are as bad as each other at the extremes of the political spectrum, the things you complain about are simple left-wing leanings which you label alt-right. The shift you perceive towards the alt-right is actually what I would call a shift to the left.

          Criticise the left all you want but labelling them alt-right is ridiculous.

          1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

            alt-right vs ctrl-left

            "you have labelled things the left and liberals have done, or would be ideologically inclined to do, as alt-right ideology"

            No doubt trying to rile up both sides with one statement.

          2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            ROFL. More QED.

        5. WolfFan Silver badge

          Pray provide details on this ‘lurch towards the alt-right’. Links to posts before and after the ‘lurch’, please.

        6. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          You constantly push derailing off-topic shit into this forum. You deserve this treatment.

      2. GrumpenKraut

        > ... I don't see some user handles in the comments any longer.

        Can only speak for myself, I have simply told the few things of interest I could tell. Now I am empty.

        Me, dead-esque =---->

        1. Admiral Grace Hopper

          Likewise. I have started to link to the last time I commented on a similar story rather than typing it out again. Just as there are seven basic plots, there are a limited number of ways in which we can press a button, lose a backup or insert a thing the wrong way up. Or maybe I'm just too old and have seen too many things.

          1. General Purpose Silver badge

            Lately, the Who, Me? stories seem to be very old. Some may find the following explanations disturbing.

            * El Reg's readership is very old

            * The younger generation is smarter, more skilful, and less prone to making mistakes.

            1. Charlie van Becelaere

              "* El Reg's readership is very old

              * The younger generation is smarter, more skilful, and less prone to making mistakes."

              Then again, perhaps the younger generation is simply less willing to admit to those mistakes, as the passage of time makes such admissions feel somewhat less threatening.

              1. imanidiot Silver badge

                Third possible explanation, the younger generation is "standing on the shoulders of giants" and is working in an environment where things like locking everyone out has become much much harder to do accidentally because the grey-beards have long ago learned from the mistake and set up processes to prevent it happening again.

                1. Killfalcon Silver badge

                  You often see comments like "why was it even being done that way?Best practice is to..." by people who were taught best-practice in years that start with a 2.

                  Truth is that the industry has learned a lot, the hard way, and often old El Reg stories are about those hard lessons being learned.

                  1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

                    Indeed. I gather (through hearsay, not experience) that pilots have a long, *long* preflight checklist -- and it's been said that every item on that list has its origin in a lesson learned the hard way.

                    Well, pilots have collectively been at it for roughly half a century longer than we have, so more of our hard-way lessons were presumably learned within living memory although, also presumably, skewing towards the older part of that range.

                    (I'm sure the aviation world still has its lessons yet to be learned, just as I'm sure we do too.)

                    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                      That comparison has a problem: Most procedures don't risk life of many people. If something goes wrong in aviation quite often over 100 people end up dead. And every bigger accident is world wide news. Flying is, practically, always flying. So the check-lists are mostly universal, except for plane specifics which are only similar. Most of IT does not cost lives. And where it can cost lives outside pressure forces IT documentation on a different level, like aviation, clinics, automated driving and so on.

                      1. J. Cook Silver badge

                        ... Kind of like how the OHSA* rules are (more or less) 'written in blood'?

                        while I will sometimes make fun of health & safety when it's taken overboard, there is (usually) a good and sensible reason for why the laws are there, and it because someone was killed or maimed.

                        *Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which is a US federal level department within the government here; not sure what the UK equivalent would be..

                        1. Not Yb

                          Minor nitpick... If you're actually looking for the US department, it's OSHA.

                      2. James Anderson

                        When computer systems were mostly about counting beans or tracking things on shelves mostly nobody died ( with a few exceptions like those unfortunate enough to sub contract for the UKs post office ).

                        However now we have millions of lines of code running in cars, industrial machinery, tractors, speakers and light bulbs FFSK. The opportunity for accidental or deliberate mayhem is pretty much unlimited.

                        PS I do agree with other posters about the sad decline of the once great vulture, now more of a dying parrot. The old tounge in cheek tabloid style is now more like a local free sheet, and, when I read about a major Google outage in the Guardian without any mention in El Regette it is clear that it’s not just a loss of humour.

                    2. Tim99 Silver badge

                      Well, pilots have collectively been at it for roughly half a century longer than we have, so more of our hard-way lessons were presumably learned within living memory although, also presumably, skewing towards the older part of that range.

                      (I'm sure the aviation world still has its lessons yet to be learned, just as I'm sure we do too.)

                      Towards the end of his life, my father passed on advice that he was given in the WW2 RAF: "Do not leave an aeroplane by parachute unless the aeroplane is on fire". This would still seem reasonable to many of us. As a passenger, I have expanded this to only use large commercial aircraft, preferably in the nicer bit at the front, and I forgo the parachute completely...

                      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

                        What you telling us?

                        That you've thrown your Dads advice out the window , and now rely on technology that involves millions of lines of code instead?

                        1. Tim99 Silver badge

                          I think that, on balance, I would go with the millions of lines of code - Current commercial passenger fatalities are ~1 for every 2.5 billion miles travelled. It seems unlikely that the descendants of the WW2 German and Italian armed forces would be actively trying to kill me.

                          The WW2 RAF fatality rate from flying accidents, etc., was ~8,000 out of >55,000. This compares to a total aircrew fatality rate of >44%. For volunteers, the casualty rate (deaths, POWs, seriously injured) was >60%. These figures are mostly for bomber crews, the total number of Battle of Britain fighter command casualties was ~550 out of 3,000.

                2. mtp

                  I was thinking the same. The wild west of IT has passed and we are now in a stable state where most things are done using established tools so the possibility of a bad command is greatly reduced. Clicking SnazzyExpensiveBackupSolution on the deskop is going to have fewer routes to disaster than a mistyped dd command.

                  I still do my backups with dd though so maybe there will be a post from me in the future but as I am careful then nothing can go wrong!

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              "The younger generation is smarter, more skilful, and less prone to making mistakes"

              The younger generation is more likely to be making it public on Instagrab/Dik-Dok/Faecesbook/Twatter for a million likes and a stern rebuke from HR for violating the company's internet policy

            3. BOFH in Training Bronze badge

              The other option is the younger generation has not gotten enough experience yet to make enough oopsies worthy of "Who, me?".

              Give them a couple more years or decades before they get around to that.


              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                And yet another explanation is that the younger ones are still employed at a level where they won't admit to making mistakes that could get them fired if identified. It's a lot safer to recount a tale of disaster that happened decades ago in a different life under a different, possibly now defunct employer :-)

                1. vogon00

                  "The younger generation is smarter, more skilful, and less prone to making mistakes"

                  No they're not. They are no smarter than anyone else (In fact quite the reverse sometimes), highly skilled at one or two particular things rather than a cohesive skills portfolio*, and make just as many mistakes as the rest of us.

                  In addition, I think the latest generation is generally incapable of admitting a mistake - it is always someone or something else's fault. I have dropped several bollocks in my career, and each time I 'fessed up immediately. Most were my fault, the others turned out not to be. Mistakes are human and to be expected, so not admitting to them already marks you as less than honest, or a total narcissist who doesn't give a toss about anyone else. God help you if I find you trying to cover it up or pass the buck.

                  Most of my managers have been professional enough to say 'You what!' first, closely followed by 'Thanks for the how do we fix it?'. As for the other type of manager, well, you find them everywhere.

                  Their biggest failing IMO? Not being able to ask for help or say 'I dunno how to do that'. They just seem to plough on digging themselves ever deeper and hoping that it'll work out in the end.

                  * Got one at the moment...knows everything about a couple of subjects, but little or nothing about the stuff above or below that they are required to interface with (Full stack developer, my arse!) They just can't seem to 'join the dots', even after going to uni/college. On paper, they are practise, less so.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    In defence of the young ones, that is also frequently the result of bad management. Us greybeards have grown up in a system where IT was rare enough to be a bit careful with the people you employed as skilled people were (a) hard to come by and (b) not yet managed as mere numbers on a spreadsheet that get culled when things went bad or it was bonus time.

                    I had to sack quite a few of those dipsticks that somehow made it into a company who were bad managers and instead of cultivating the young talent were running power games, politics and other crap that had nothing to do with management. The good news is that older people people like me now have (a) the skills to spot these wastes of space and (b) the power to ruthlessly rip them out of the structure like the useless weeds they are.

                    It's those people that kill work culture, and every time I'm able to catch one of them and boot them out it's a happy day. HR departments don't like me because I tend to trace back how they made it into the company, and somehow you'll find the root of the problem (to stay with vegeratian compatible phrasing) often resides there.

                    Those who do not try to help the younger generations forget one important fact:

                    They'll eventually choose the care home you'll end up in :).

            4. Korev Silver badge

              Lately, the Who, Me? stories seem to be very old. Some may find the following explanations disturbing.

              * El Reg's readership is very old

              * The younger generation is smarter, more skilful, and less prone to making mistakes.

              Or maybe people only want to share old screwups to not risk their current employment and/or being sued for confidentiality reasons by their current or recent employer...

            5. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

              Or, having not yet been in the industry as long, the younger generation might simply not yet have the accumulation of war stories to tell.

              Or (pure conjecture here) they might not yet have the confidence to tell the embarrassing ones. That might come only with age and (near-)retiredness, and the long-gone-ness of many of the organizations in question.

            6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

              "* The younger generation is smarter, more skilful, and less prone to making mistakes."

              ...or so they would have you believe....

            7. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Actually, the younger generation has been automated out of the critical path.

              You don't find management wandering in the semi-robotic data centers of the clouds.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think the problem is that they are trying to fill two columns... "On Call" and "Who? Me?"... and it's getting a bit like terrestrial TV competing with Netflix, Prime, NowTV, Disney+, Discovery+... it's diluting the magic

      1. chivo243 Silver badge

        Well, yes, but no... On Call is saving the day, Who? Me? is the other side of the coin.

        1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

          Agreed. "Who, Me?" and "On Call" are essentially the same sort of stories. It's just a question of whether it's the teller or someone else, respectively, that fucked up.

          I think it might be worthwhile to combine the two columns into a new one, "War Stories" -- which would be a general enough name to also include stories that don't really fit into either of the existing columns.

    3. Peter Prof Fox

      Poor flake

      If you want entertainment then this is the wrong place. The Register is about enlightenment. Who Me and On Call are lighthearted and not meant to feature wide-screen, technicolor horror for the benefit of hedonistic comentards.

      1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

        Re: Poor flake

        No, El Reg was always about both. Or haven't you ever read BOFH, SFTW or Stob?

        1. Loyal Commenter

          Re: Poor flake

          Yeah, well Stob has been gone for a fair while now, and SFTW for long enough for most to notice the absence.

          BOfH has been running for quite a while, and sooner or later, Simon is going to retire...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Simon is going to retire"

            There will always be a BOFH, PFY will get promoted to BOFH when Simon is promoted to the next level. And if Stephen is found wanting, I have some interesting things I can do to people who break my systems.

            The question will be what is the next level?

            1. Rich 11

              Re: "Simon is going to retire"

              The question will be what is the next level?

              Pub landlord.

          2. mtp

            Re: Poor flake

            Lets raise a pint for Lester Haines. The special projects bureau is much missed and Lohan seems destined for a life without the airborn glory (and probable disaster) that it was born for.


      2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: Poor flake

        Of course not! I expect 12 inch green screen horror! Bernstein colored for newer stories.

      3. vogon00

        Re: Poor flake

        @Peter Prof Fox, re 'If you want entertainment then'

        You don't deserve the downvotes you have, if for no other reason than you produced a beautifully crafted sentence, and reminded us we are still comentards - I still miss the moderatrix.

    4. Robin

      "the stories seem to have got a lot less dramatic recently."

      Wait until you hear about the time I left a USB cable on my desk...

      1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        I once used an incorrectly rated fuse for a UK plug which blew when I plugged it in. I had to replace the fuse with a correctly rated one before it could be used.

        I fear it might take some padding to turn that into a more captivating tale of woe.

        1. Mr Humbug

          You'd state the fuse rating when you described fitting it in the plug, then go on to describe how you checked the terminals were secure and the cord grip was correctly fitted. Then you'd mention the appliance power draw in passing so we could all nod wisely in anticipation of the punch line. Finally you would express disappointment at the lack of flashes and bangs.

          1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

            A more entertaining tale to tell would be the one about an engineer in our ''R&D Lab who was tasked with checking a prototype lighting dimmer product was working as expected.

            Instructions: Disconnect power, daisy chain the triacs, connect mains live, connect to mains neutral through a light bulb, set faders to zero, turn on, move the faders up, check bulb comes on.

            Set-up done, power turned on, faders move up. World's Largest Bang (TM), lights go out, silence descends across the building, I was off my chair and under the desk like a ferret in a war zone, wondering WTF and what damage had been done behind me.

            Thankfully engineer intact, albeit 'surprised', and no damage done except to the triacs whose tops had blown off. Turns out the whole lot was accidentally wired as a live to neutral short waiting to happen, the light bulb not in circuit.

            Power back on. Cups of tea all round. "Shit happens" the most severe recrimination. "Power through local circuit breaker" and other safety advice added to instructions. And we all lived happily ever after.

    5. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      I don't mind even the small issues, even the smallest issue for someone can mean the end of the world for someone else.

    6. Stevie



      A depressing number of stories resemble Sir Walter Raleigh’s tale of the time he fell overboard and was almost eaten by a hammerhead shark, and the magic phrase “flames shot out” has been completely absent for years.

      This is not The Register’s fault, it is that of the authors or these, well, one hesitates to call them Tales of Woe, centering as they do on conflagration-free non-firings. The young IT professionals of today are simply not trying.

      It has to be said that the world of modern electronics to which they are exposed does not lend itself to loud detonations, people jumping around with their skeletons flashing on and off, and breakers at the substations tripping. One simply cannot get the same Oomph from a wall-wart designed to deliver 3 anna bit volts at a current so small it barely fibrillates the heart as one could in the late 1960s, when the St John Backsides Comprehensive “computer club” would turn on the floor-mounted socket with a three ring binder because there would be “some arcing” As the old IBM 1301 they were rebuilding from scrap began to stagger into half-life.

      How I yearn for the days when a casually misplaced finger while pulling a crystal from a shortwave set could result in a loud cry of “OOYAH!”, an impressive standing long jump - backwards I might add, a hand-shaped burn in the desk top and the smell of frying finger flesh redolent in the air.

      Not for the young engineer the exciting experience of leaving a screwdriver stuck in the ceiling after the reassurances of a colleague that the chassis of the TV was indeed unplugged turn out to be less-than definitive, nor shall their ears ever receive those energizing words: “SHE’S GONNA BLOW!”

      1. mtp

        Re: Bah!

        I bought a trivial low power 12V plug in from Maplins (RIP UK supplier of electronics kit) about a decade ago. I plugged it into my wall outlet and there was a big bang and the main 32A breaker tripped. I removed it and there was a notch missing from the copper so proving the well known truism that fuses blow after the damage has happened.

        I took it back to Maplins for a replacement and insisted that they plug the new unit into the wall there before I accepted it. She did so with notable hesitation and a worried look but it was fine

        1. Tim99 Silver badge

          Re: Bah!

          I heard a bit of a bang when I plugged a Nokia analogue mobile phone charger into my small desktop UPS - The charger was welded into the UPS. Yes, the circuit breaker tripped, but I also took out the 50A fuse under the power box, and the distribution cabinet in the street; leaving 26 houses without power. The electrician, and the nice man from the power company who he called out, were both quite understanding, under the circumstances.

      2. swm Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        I think that part of the problem is that transistors etc. don't have the oomph that tubes (valves) had so there was not as much power to play with.

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: Bah!

          So many PC cases have ludicrous numbers of colourful lights in them that last time I rebuilt my home PC I couldn't even source a motherboard without weird lighting effects (thankfully disabled in BIOS).

          Maybe we can convince the youngsters that, if even whitebeards have them, LEDs are totally passe (e acute that is meant to be) that they have to move onto The Next Big Thing - which is, of course, the USB-C powered Jacob's Ladder. That should be good for a few hijinks.

          1. TSM

            Re: Bah!

            Perhaps we need to muster up all the intestinal fortitude we can gather and pretend to be really into such things. Then it will be uncool and they may finally go away.

    7. Marty McFly Silver badge

      Forgotten stories...

      I think there are some stories which are buried deep enough to never see the light of day again. Or maybe simply old crisis long forgotten.

      A recent Who? Me? caused me to recall a story of my own.... I was proudly one of the first three students to get access to the Internet at my College in 1989.

      For the youth among us, that meant a 1200 baud modem, sharing a pool of three dial-in numbers, and a command prompt. And remember, "World Wide Web" is different from the "Internet".

      I was not-so-proudly one of the first two students to get access revoked. Who knew that running a fake mail script and sending an anonymous email to an instructor would be a bad thing. Probably would have gotten away with it if there were more than three student users, but since that was the case it was an easy problem to research.

      And this formed the Genesis of all the 'Acceptable Use Policies' we now have to deal with. You're welcome!

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Forgotten stories...

        "And this formed the Genesis of all the 'Acceptable Use Policies' we now have to deal with."

        Nah. We kicked a kid off the Stanford network for policy violations after he sent a "Wanna Buy My Bike?" message to every email address on campus in about 1982.

        Every Datacenter in the Mainframe World had rules and regs about what was proper and what was not. The rules changed if you were on or off campus ... and if you were a part of the company who owned (or leased) the Mainframe, or were accessing it as a service bureau or (later) as a timeshare. Some of these rules were quite complex.

        We had an AUP (of sorts) for the ARPANET in the early 1970s, although I could make a case for there being one as soon as the first bits were sent and received between two University campuses in 1969 ("Proper use of University Equipment" and "Sharing of Research between Universities" or similar went back decades before this).

        Almost all BBSes had AUPs. Almost :-) [0]

        Delphi had an AUP in 1983, BIX in 1984, AOL (as QLink) in 1985. The granddaddy of all of 'em all, CI$, by at least 1979, possibly as early as 1969.

        [0] The AUP of mine read "Anything that unnecessarily increases jake's workload will get you terminated permanently. Other than that, have fun!" I never had to terminate anybody.

      2. PRR Bronze badge

        Re: Forgotten stories...

        > 1989 .. the Genesis of all the 'Acceptable Use Policies'

        1973, a bunch of us students had late-night access to the teletypes on what was not-yet the ARPAnet. A dozen colleges and a dozen military bases. (The "DNS" was a static one-page sheet on the wall.) We would look around their filesystems. Mostly looking for StarTrek, a teletype-oriented game of coordinates and firing power. Obviously this type activity would lead to Policy.

        Note that my early hacks were before the age of unix. It existed but in a very small way and I doubt I encountered it. A couple years later it grew, and at that school too, but I had moved beyond such stuff.

        For reference, what the real Comp Sci students were studying was PL/I. COBOL and Fortran were not considered growth fields, ALGOL 60 was just a student's toy; BASIC was just for high-schoolers.

        1. WolfFan Silver badge

          Re: Forgotten stories...

          Ah, PL/1. IBM’s attempt to conquer the world, combining FORTRAN and COBOL into one annoying package. The uni had several big IBM machines, possibly System/360s, it’s been a while, I don’t remember. We also had a Burroughs and a Prime, and a GA, which was fed punch cards. Note that the Burroughs was so slow and annoying that students used the GA, and punch cards, in preference. We did FORTRAN on the Prime and the GA, COBOL on the Burroughs and the GA, and PL/1 on the mainframe. C? What’s that? I think that C did show up my last year, alongside Pascal. I had Pascal on my Mac, not that I could do much, that was a Mac 128 and there wasn’t much memory to play with. And storage was 400kB floppies.

    8. mtp

      OK this one was feeble but in general I enjoy these and on a Monday my acceptance criteria is low so please keep posing them and I am willing to take the good with the bad.

      I don't have any stories myself but I do know of someone who blew up the electronics of a significant instrument when at a antarctic research station at the beginning of winter with no possibility of repair for 10 months. This would have been a great Who? Me? but it is not for me to tell.

    9. ElPedro100

      What's left to laugh about?

      Let's face it, with Everything as a Service all being managed externally with a browser interface to do everything there are no interesting disaster stories in IT any more. "My cloud provider fked up" doesn't make a very inspiring read.

      We're all doomed.

    10. that one in the corner Silver badge

      the stories seem to have got a lot less dramatic recently

      To be fair, these stories are up against some *really* tough opposition at the moment (we see you lurking there, Elon).

      Any story sent in at the moment is going to feel like small change; fingers crossed that El Reg knows that and is holding back some good ones to use after we've regained our sense of normality. Please let be the case. Pretty please?

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    True to form

    > the company got an important lesson in checking its documentation.

    One that, if they are like every other company I have experienced, they continued to ignore.

    After all, if you check (or test) something, that might turn up errors. Errors cause delays and they aren't in the release timetable.

    1. Wanting more

      Re: True to form

      Never check for an error you don't know how to fix!

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: True to form

        You have to know who to contact to fix. More important than trying to know everything by yourself.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: True to form

      I'm guessing they probably took a while (if ever) just to fix the error they found, if their company works anything like every place I've worked. I think the only thing about the Agile Manifesto that was understood by companies was the part where they say "We value working software over documentation". Usually, the policy ends up being "If the documentation bothers you, you change it. You can put whatever you like in there. Nobody will review your change until the new starter tries to use it for something.".

  4. Giles C Silver badge

    As someone who ends up writing a lot of documentation you never put passwords in the documents, refer to a (hopefully) controlled system. There are two reasons for this, the first is when someone updates the passwords the documentation doesn’t need to be rewritten, the second is if you shouldn’t use it then you shouldn’t have access to the password.

    The other problem is someone changing the process from what the document says and not updating the document, so the process is as good as useless.

    As someone who has spent a large amount of time on call for various jobs I know that good documentation is invaluable especially when having to fix something at 3am when you have just been woken up….

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Joke 3am when you have just been woken up.

      At that time you need simple words and large letters. Like written for a 6-year old during the day.

      Topping it off with the text "DON'T PANIC" in soothing letters.

      1. Giles C Silver badge

        At 3am you ask the person who called you to put tje problem in writing which gives enough time for the laptop to boot up and the vpn to connect.

        And your brain to start before having to do anything else

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          At 3am my brain's so low on caffeine that it entered a vegetative state. So, for it to start it needs strong tea in sizable quantity, which takes time to prepare - that's before I'd even be able to locate the laptop let alone its VPN connection. And that's why I better don't do on call.

          1. Giles C Silver badge

            All documentation should be written so a 3am brain can understand it…..

            1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

              Agreed. But before understanding it needs to read it. Don't think mine would at that time and state.

              1. ArrZarr Silver badge

                The headaches are worth dropping the caffeine reliance.

                And coffee is...just the worst drink anyway. Seriously, why do all you nutters drink that concoction of distilled cowpats and hatred?

                1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

                  Why do you care what other people drink, eh?

                  1. ArrZarr Silver badge

                    It's not complicated - it reeks. It stinks when the person sitting next to you is drinking a coffee at their desk. Beyond that, when you've got a corridor full of coffee binge drinkers (looking at you, university corridors), the smell has permeated the entire place and is inescapable.

                    So I care for the same reason that I'd rather not be sitting next to somebody vaping. Even if there's nothing harmful in it, I don't want to deal with your accoutrements stinking the place out.

      2. Outski Silver badge

        Joke icon not needed :o)

        My procedural documentation always has, after the "this is what this procedure covers" line, a warning "This document is intended for team X. If you are attempting this procedure and NOT a member of team X, STOP NOW, and contact a member of team X".

        Minimum necessary permissioning is a good principle, but isn't always applied, so if someone's using my procedure and buggers things up, they can't say they weren't warned.

      3. OhForF'

        large letters. Like written for a 6-year old

        6 year old me had no issues deciphering small letters, its the older version of myself that requires large letters (or lenses). Panic will although be less an issue than the enticing lure of sweeping the problem under the carpet to be allowed to go back to sleep.

        I'd go for "Think before you act" instead of "DON'T PANIC".

      4. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

        I prefer "Beware of dragons"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When recently I was asked to submit some management and backup/restore documentation for a software we developed, when I submitted passwords in a separate KeePass file I was told that wasn't nice....

      1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

        You shouldn't have secured the Keepass file with the password "ifyouhavefuckedthingsyouneedthisfile"

    3. lglethal Silver badge

      I remember an old colleague telling me a story (so it may be apocryphal) of a company who had a written procedure for a delicate task. It was the kind of task that only got done when things were going VERY pear shaped, and it had been about 3 years since the last time t had been needed.

      My old colleague, then just a junior PFY, dutifully went and obtained the procedure from the guide, and started to follow the steps precisely, as he had been instructed to do. About 2/3 of the way through he went to visit his boss and asked who Dave ********* was? His boss looked at him funnily, and told him to stop being a troublemaker and get back to work. My colleague returned to his desk collected the guide, returned to his boss, and told him he was stuck on Step 24.

      The Boss grumbled, scanned down the page, and upon reaching Step 24, proceeded to turn white as a sheet, and mouth something along the lines of "Oh Sh%t!". The Instruction read something along the lines of "For the Password to System X, please contact Dave *********."

      Apparently, this Dave had left the company about 18 months before, and it had not been a happy breakup. So the chances of getting the password were Zero.

      I dont remember, what my old colleague said happened, apart from a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, but he and the company learnt a valuable lesson. Never entrust sensitive information to a single person. And better yet, dont entrust it to a person at all, but use a safe (or for the modern case), a password locker.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        When I was a PFI to a BOFH ("Dave"); said BOFH was on holiday when I received an alert that the research fileserver[0] was getting full. I dutifully looked up how to extend a LUN only to find that procedure was to "Speak to Dave"

        [0] This was a while ago[1]

        [1] Things became less NASty

      2. ColinPa Silver badge

        Where's the key?

        I was at a site where they were walking through the Disaster recovery scenario.

        The big red switch to do something was in a locked cabinet (with reinforced glass). Come the moment of pressing the big red switch it was suddenly "where's Helen?" .. the manager with the key... She was in the bathroom feeling not very well. Someone had to go to the ladies loo and the key was passed under the door!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Where's the key?

          If it was an MOD site, they would have just blown the doors off....

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: Where's the key?

            I notice you didn't say "blown just the doors off".

            Now, nobody move, I've got an idea...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I was a "Dave" (not the "Dave" in the story though).

        Had left the company a few years ago and had a phone call asking if I remember what the password was for the stock control server was.

        As she was very nice while I worked there, I did sort of help her - (was it Password, password, PassWord - something like that??) Had it been the MD that called, then I would have complete memory loss...

        * It wasn't actually password - different word, can't remember what now!!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I had one of those calls. It must have been especially embarrassing for them as we didn't part on good terms, and they'd ended up paying me a fair bit of money at the suggestion of my solicitor! I didn't particularly feel like helping, but as it happens, I didn't remember the password they wanted anyway. It wasn't either of the two* passwords that every customer system we supported used one of, for our admin level account.

          * there were two passwords because at some point somebody had finally realised that the then only password, "ynot", being our MD's name backwards, was a bit insecure now we were setting up remote access to their systems. (The new one was reasonable, albeit overused.)

        2. Missing Semicolon Silver badge


          Phone call after being gone for a while..

          "What's the root password to that box under your old desk?"

          "it's written on the label on top of the box"

          "Oh, yeah..."

          FWIW, the box did not have encrypted drives, so if you had the physical box, the data was yours anyway.

    4. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Documentation that does not match reality is worse than lying, it's outright FRAUD.

      Select "bulk import", select "Choose file"....






      One of these days I'm going to visit London, find the people responsible for our software and educate them with a two-by-four. There. Will. Be. Blood.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The other zinger is an extra compulsory step is added that must be answered with something obscure before you can continue.

        1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

          "What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?" per chance?

          1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

            You'll have to ask the Reg Standards Bureau for that.

    5. MrBanana Silver badge

      I've put passwords in documentation for pre-installed demo systems. You know the kind of thing you fire up once as a developer, play around with and then destroy. Fortunately, these demo systems never, ever get deployed in a production environment. And if anyone is so stupid to do so, then they would immediately change the passwords right?

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Fortunately, these demo systems never, ever get deployed in a production environment. And if anyone is so stupid to do so, then they would immediately change the passwords right?

        See icon.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        LetMeIn is one I remember from somewhere, somewhen. No idea what it was for, but it was the standard, default password for something and not often changed in deployment.

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          I used to keep reading that at let mein.

      3. Tim99 Silver badge

        You mean like Oracle Scott/Tiger? Yes, I went to a customer to tidy up a mess left by a previous contractor; and that was still in their production system. It contained customer personal details, discount structures, company financials, etc. All the staff used that login, and (as I remember?) it had been in use for about 5 years.

    6. EarthDog

      We used to embed passwords for the test environ in documents as a safety. Much like the left-handed valve.

  5. Korev Silver badge

    All went well, for a while. He got to page three of the procedure,

    Hopefully the documentation wasn't in The Sun...

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Well, it did almost go titsup at that point...

      1. Korev Silver badge

        > Well, it did almost go titsup at that point...

        Well played Sir -->

    2. Scott 53

      Hopefully the documentation wasn't in The Sun...

      Well things did go TITSUP (Total Inability To Support User Passwords)

    3. Mark 78

      "Hopefully the documentation wasn't in The Sun..."

      He might have made a right tit out of himself instead.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Better than being left behind

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My first rule would be, don't give superuser access to anybody that doesn't understand the commands they are typing.

    Yes, I know in theory, you can have a documented procedure and give the job to a simpleton who simply follows that procedure to the letter. I've worked in places where they do that.

    I know people whose first response in any situation is to pull out the notes from a 2 day training course and follow the instructions they were given 5 years ago by a tutor who has probably never actually done it themselves. It's great for people who work in the kind of organisations where everybody needs to keep their head down and their arse covered at all times.

    But things can go bad very quickly when something unexpected happens that doesn't match the documentation. IMHO It's better to employ somebody that actually understands the system inside and out and doesn't need to read a manual to know what to do.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      I read through instructions before starting to discover what I will need before I get there. And in documentation I /write/, the first paragraph is a list of the things you will need later on. Get user's name and birthday. Prepare username in this format, prepare password in this format, prepare email address in this format. Prepare display name in this format. etc. /Then/ the rest of the instructions.

      1. Just A Quick Comment

        That's great as an ideal, but when you've got Management on your back, users breathing down your neck, and half a dozen other things on your plate it's hard to be so procedural...

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      My first rule would be, don't give superuser access to anybody that doesn't understand the commands they are typing.

      Eight words too many.

      1. ChrisC Silver badge

        "My first rule, give superuser access to anybody that doesn't understand."

        Well, you didn't say *which* 8 words...

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Guilty as charged.

        2. Someone Else Silver badge


          This is the reason why one should still read El Reg!

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      From the article, this particular set of instructions were not supposed to include the superuser login details. They were instead a result of copy/pasting from a set of instructions for performing a backup.

      Although that does then beg the question, of why there wasn't a separate backup user?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      First day of apprenticeship, area manager shows all us noobies how to fill in a timesheet

      First day of first assignment, local manager shows me how to fill in a timesheet CORRECTLY

      1. Rich 11

        First day of first site visit, mentor shows you how to forge convincing receipts to accompany the expenses form submission.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old script getting used elsewhere

    Years ago, we were used to have scripts for data backups in our DC, with quite impressing mirror copy stuff, until we had high end storage with those included.

    So, a decade later, my then boss was called by the people (same company) from DC ops at the other end of the world.

    The script failed, can you help ?

    We discovered the script was acquired by the clueless people there and run for years to perform backups, without our team even knowing anything about the environment or its use.

    And, as the last updater's name was my then boss they called him in ... He laughed a lot and politely explained support was on them ...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ......he was just following orders?

  9. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    Always mount a scratch admin

  10. TimMaher Silver badge

    Dirty Harry

    Nice reference there. Do you feel lucky?

  11. AlexG_UK

    Not a million miles away ...

    I was working as a software pre-sales 'droid for what was once a proud hardware company in the 70's, before it pivoted to a bit of an also ran software company by the time we were in the 90's. Regardless they did have a rather fancy, if temperamental, piece of configuration / BoM software. So being tasked with setting up said software for a customer demo I diligently followed the manual; no joy. I asked my boss for advice, he suggested liaising with the regional pre-sales lead, who said "follow the manual". Eventually, got the name of the global lead for this piece of software. I carefully explained all the steps I had gone through, and emphasised that I had followed the manual at each and every turn, his response "Ahh yes .. but what you must understand is, the manual lies!"

    Never a truer word!

    1. irrelevant

      Re: Not a million miles away ...

      Trying to set up a fediverse instance this week.. Start with a fresh and up to date install of Ubuntu each time.. I tried four different software setups, follow the setup scripts to the letter. Every one failed somewhere along the line. I managed to solve some of the issues, but it wasn't until I tried the very latest version of mastodon, released after I'd started this exercise, that I finally got the bloody thing working, and at that, it had told me to install the wrong version of Ruby than it then required later on.

  12. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    In a land far, far away

    At a time long, long ago, I worked for an outfit and administered a system which was critical to production. I had produced a set of diagrams, notes and other instructions on how the Beast worked. Which servers were where and what to do in the event of a system crash. These were contained neatly in a three-ring binder on a bookshelf over my desk.

    Our IT department, always looking to expand their baliwick, asked that they be given access to these notes. Just in case I was unreachable, hit by a bus or some such thing when the system went down.

    "Will a Xerox copy do?" I asked.

    "How about you just save a document on one of your servers", was the reply.

    "Oh, you mean the crashed server that you are attempting to bring back on line? Think about that for a sec. At least with a hard copy, you can read it with a flashlight while trying to find the main breaker."

    And they let these people run around with floppy disks ...

  13. EarthDog

    Training opportunity

    I learned to use documentation for backup/recovery/installs etc. to new hires or interns for training purposes. There is nothing better at finding the bugs in documentation than a naïve user. Of course all training was done in a test environment.

  14. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Given my job

    is rather more mechanical than IT based, the need for documentation is rather more critical.

    The need for readable documentation is even more so

    The need for the engineers to read the readable documentation even even more so.

    After a recent disaster.....

    "Did you follow the setup document?"


    "What about the bit for checking clearance between the robot arm and the fixture?"

    "What bit?"

    "The bit written at the top of the document saying 'RUN IN SLOW MOTION AND CHECK FOR POSSIBLE COLLISIONS' "


    I dont know why I bother sometimes

    1. Diogenes

      Re: Converse - omitted steps

      I have a vacuum/mop robot.

      First use of the vacuum/mop - has difficulty mapping the room, so I consult FAQ, Dr Google and finally ring tech support. "It says quite clearly to clean the lidar before you use it" - "mate I am looking at the paper and a pdf version of the manual on your website - I have done a search for lidar and gone to each reference, could you point to the exact page and line where I am told to do this and the instructions for doing same?" -

      tappity tap tap tap, "er, um , er - look er open up the manual for the window cleaner model xxxx it uses the same lidar setup".

      Perform cleaning step & all good

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. Tim99 Silver badge


    I liked DEC VMS. MS DOS (and later, Windows and NT), not so much >>=======>

    I wonder if the company mottos may have given us hints as to why that might be? Digital Equipment Corporation's was 'Honesty and respect for customers and employees'. Microsoft's, at a similar time, was 'A computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software’.

    In about 1985 our Microsoft rep, over a boozy lunch, thought Bill had said "A hundred dollars a year from everybody".

    1. Daedalus

      Re: DEC

      DEC had a bad case of "firstest with the mostest" which was great in the beginning but produced a culture of corporate arrogance, of the "we don't use standards, we are the standard" variety. They were not ready for the rise of Unix or the advent of the PC clone. They were not alone: several of the "workstation" mini-computer companies just couldn't let go of their proprietary systems, not to mention their huge markups.

  17. Daedalus

    Writing instruction manuals is an art....

    ...that few are qualified to practise.

    I speak from the depths of yet another design doc that tries its hardest to be everything but. Discursive, digressive, talking about what things are not instead of what they are....

    And don't get me started on those "look how smart we are" documents.

    But let us also ask why that ever larger tome called "Your car and its features" is 98% warnings and 2% stuff you need to know.

    1. TSM

      Re: Writing instruction manuals is an art....

      Don't worry, one day soon it will just be a file that you can only access by pressing a specific sequence of buttons on the infotainment panel.

  18. Dabooka

    It's the old adage

    Never reuse a populated template (or cut and paste between the two).

    I mean for run of the mill instructions sure, but anything serious like his? You just have to invest the time to do it right

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