back to article Superuser mostly helped IT, until a BSOD saw him invent a farcical fix

As Christmas approaches, The Register wants to thank readers for the gift of On Call – the weekly column you make possible by sharing stories of your most torrid tech support encounters. On Call appears every Friday morning, UK time, and based on the volume of traffic and comments it generates appears to be a reader favorite. …

  1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

    Management material

    Fuck it up, make it someone else's problem, take the glory and leave before you are really found out.

    Yishi has managlement potential

    Icon: If only this was a joke

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Management material

      Always make sure one person knows how totally useless you are, and so will give you a glowing reference to speed you on your way to anywhere but here please God.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Management material

      Absolutely not a joke. In education ( in the UK at least, don't know about Japan) it's a career path.

      I long ago lost count of the number of ambitious (don't really want to be) teachers and exteachers-turned-advisors who arrived in a school, launched a shiny new panacea then buggered off to bigger and better things leaving the actual teachers to clear up the mess.

      There was even one such who actually stayed with the same authority, moving on ever upwards, who could look a room full of experienced teachers in the eye and without a hint of a blush explain why the latest new thing was brilliant and the old thing was obviously rubbish from the start, even though a few weeks previously she'd spent her days actively promoting said rubbish and explaining why the programme previous to it had been obviously rubbish, even though...... (rinse and repeat scheme after scheme).

      1. keithpeter Silver badge

        Re: Management material

        @Terry and all

        Consultants can be hired through helpful firms to help educational institutions in the UK prepare for re-inspection after a bad OFSTED.

        Many OFSTED inspectors are hired on a per inspection basis.

        Think about it.

        Has to stop.

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Re: Management material

          Holy bloody shit, that explains so much about ofsted... it sounds horribly similar to so much under this regime :( self regulation DOES NOT WORK, ONE BAD APPLE WILL RUIN IT ALL

          1. keithpeter Silver badge

            Re: Management material

            Google 'school reinspection consultants'

            Select a few companies.

            Read the 'about us' or 'profiles' bit to see who they are recruiting.

            Circular system.

            No direct conflict of interest, but...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Management material

        Coming to a Labour Party near you.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Management material

        Absolutely not only in education. Pretty much anywhere with a division between management and workers there's scope for people who have never done the work to tell you how you're doing it wrong and they know better.

        Outsource, offshore, inshore, I source.

        And those people who fail upwards, promoted where they supposedly can't cause any trouble.

        1. psychopomp

          Re: Management material

          '....people who have never done the work to tell you how you're doing it wrong and they know better.'

          TBH isn't that just 'management'?

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Management material

            Oh yes. We had a management consultant of the of the "If he's that good why isn't he managing a major company" variety ( The managerial equivalent of people who sell courses on how to get rich - but why then do they need to sell courses.....).

            Said consultant thought that "Management is a profession in its own right and you don't need to know anything about the business". Nice chap. very enjoyable afternoons away from the job. And it was useful talking to him about specific staff issues. But I wouldn't have let him manage an ice-cream machine in winter. Let alone a bunch ot truculent, experienced, highly trained specialist teachers.

          2. Bazismad2

            Re: Management material

            Management = fuckers who have friends who know less than them in higher places...

  2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Sounds like one user learned the hard way that back-ups are essential. I recall quite a few cases where I used various Norton tools to recover 95% or more of a student's thesis because they failed to back up properly. Never heard of Yoshi's magic time setting trick, I must say.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      I remember in uni (early 90s) helping a fellow student recover is work from the Temp folder in the public use computer after he somehow deleted it from his private network space.

      Although thankful for my help, he was horrified his entire work was available to all and sundry, if so inclined.

      1. Wyrdness

        I had one who couldn't find the files that he was working on, after rebooting the computer.

        "Where were they?" I asked.

        "In /tmp"

      2. Trixr

        Having worked in a university in the late 90s, if a student had a "private network space", then it would have been backed up. While getting it out of Temp probably retrieved more of the doco's recent edits, calling on the student support helpdesk would probably have resulted in a restore from backup, at least from the previous night.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      I lost count of the times students came to me with a mangled 3.5" floppy pleading for me to help salvage their work .

      "Why is your only copy on a floppy" I'd say

      "Teachers told us to"

      "Why is your their only copy on a floppy" I'd say to the teachers

      "Because learning to use a floppy disc is part of the syllabus" they'd say


      Try as I might I could not convince any of the teachers of the stupidity of this or the benefits of the network home drive that each student was equipped with.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        When I first started uni the machines were discless Win3.11 machines with a miserly 1MB of network storage. I quickly realised that your inbox had.... 5MB!!! So I soon just emailed myself files to "save" space

        Greybeard -->

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          A whole meg? We hat 100k (admittedly 36 bit words) but as many boxes of cards as you could carry.

          Kids today...mutter, mutter.

          1. DJV Silver badge

            You were lucky.

            We had to chisel zeros and ones into stone tablets...

            1. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

              You had a chisel!!!

              We had to sharpen our fingernails on rocks before carving the ones and zeros.

              1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

                You had ones AND zeros?

                We had just one or 'tother and had to remember which were supposed to be the other type.

                1. Bazismad2

                  We had just worked out our self...

          2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

            Boxes of Cards

            Don't forget to type in (or auto-create) sequence numbers in columns 73-80. That way, if you drop your boxes of cards, you can use a card sorter to put them back into their proper order.

      2. Spanners Silver badge


        I used to get students. "My dissertation was on this, but it's gone!"

        I think I would get about half of them. Sometimes off the floppy, sometimes from other places and a couple of times by OCR'ing a draft.

        The funniest one was he had lost an opening photograph of his place of education. I used a well known Photoshop alternative. I had to replace whatever mess was at the front by extending the brickwork. Apparently, later, someone asked him why he had bricked up his university front entrance!

      3. xyz123 Silver badge

        learning to use a floppy is part of the syllabus.

        Rename Network drive to "viagra" and tell them floppies are a thing of the past!

        1. Raphael

          in South Africa, the 3½-inch floppy was called a stiffy.

      4. parrot

        USB memory sticks

        Soldered a lot of plugs back on to USB memory sticks for this reason too, student’s coursework deemed sufficiently important to justify this use of my time. Learned to just pull the data off and throw the stick away otherwise I’d find them still using it weeks later!

        The ones with snapped circuit boards were a particularly good challenge, which to be honest I used to enjoy. Nice break from resetting passwords and putting keyboards back to their correct layout.

        1. MarthaFarqhar

          Re: USB memory sticks

          Ah, a fellow veteran

          Did you encounter the stolen mice balls from the computer rooms, or were you lucky to be in the laser era?

          1. Danny 14

            Re: USB memory sticks

            glue gun. Glue the mouse trapdoor (like the fluff trap roller was ever going to be cleaned). then glue gun the 110/240 psu switch so that the magic smoke doesnt come out of the PSUs every thirsday ICT lesson.

      5. MarthaFarqhar


        We provided students with plenty of filespace, dutifully backed up to various products.

        Did they use it? No.

        Trusting their work to single instances of floppies, then USB sticks, with disks contaminated with dust, liquids of dubious origin, and other such aids to lose data, we were often challenged as to why we didn't back their floppies/USBs up. Many of them forgot their induction paperwork that stated. "We backup all network drives, but we can't backup your removable media. Please, Please, PLEASE store a copy on your network space, it will save you a lot of hassle and tears in the future."

        It wasn't just limited to students. We've had admins that saved all their work to a local drive, which promptly died, a professor who managed to delete a lifetimes work, rather than use the ample network storage (we realised that this would happen, so a copy of Retrospect and a lot of disks connected to the server meant we could recover his work to the previous day.)

        We tried in that battle, but we knew that for every scenario we dreamt up, the users would find new and improved ways to ignore it.

        I now only have to worry about my family and their flagrant disregard of backups. Even they don't listen, till it's too late.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A coworker had a Win10 update this week and lost all his OneDrive files. Including both recycle boxes and the retention hold library (policy is for all deleted items to be kept there, period). Of course, he had followed IT recommendations to keep everything in OneDrive, since it's backed up. Turns out IT can't restore OneDrive, as they were relying on Microsoft to be doing those backups...

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        The IT of your company must be REALLY bad, because Micros~2 communicates clearly in all admin-targeted and sales-targeted information that you NEED to have an extra onedrive backup, whichever backuplan you use. It does NOT state that onedrive is backup up by itself. But Micros~3 does state that all data is at least stored three times. But triple-mirroring is not a backup, which your IT should know. And even if they had an extra backup tool or backuplan: Did they ever test it? Is it monitored? Do backup failures generate an alarm to be ignored?

        Sorry for your coworker, but that blame is not on Micros~4.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Of course, he had followed IT recommendations to keep everything in OneDrive, since it's backed up. Turns out IT can't restore OneDrive, as they were relying on Microsoft to be doing those backups...

        We are currently being migrated to the abomination that is Windows 11. Next up is our home drives - the content to be moved over to OneDrive.

    4. Danny 14

      i used recuva only a fortnight ago to recover student work. not backed up. we force onedrive use and have veeam immutable backups.

      they still managed not to save their 365 document in the class teams or their own onedrive.

    5. Icepop33

      Oh, the trick is real. I just don't recall it ever being used in this context...

  3. ColinPa

    Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

    I was on a support of a customer where they reported that the system kept losing data (money transfers). They were very upset and demanded some come and fix it - bearing in mind if it was a bug, we could not fix it if we were on their site - they just wanted a hostage so they could tell senior management that the problem was being worked on.

    We got the data logs, and I could see that every midnight a userid was issuing the purge command.

    When we told them it suddenly went very quiet.

    A week later we had a phone call with them and they apologised and said that someone in the test team had put in automation for that command in for the test systems, and it had accidentally been copied to production.

    "Several people have had parts of their anatomy removed and hung on the wall for all to see"

    1. SVD_NL Bronze badge

      Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

      Good gracious, who sets up an automation that contains the word "delete" or "purge" without triple checking everything and pressing enter with the sweatiest palms the world has ever seen?

      Especially because he should've checked the test system and would've seen nothing was being purged. That's a huge red flag.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

        > Good gracious, who sets up an automation that contains the word "delete" or "purge" without triple checking everything and pressing enter with the sweatiest palms the world has ever seen?

        Oh you poor sweet summer child. Unfortunately, LOTS of people. "it's just a purge job, nothing to worry about"

        > Especially because he should've checked the test system and would've seen nothing was being purged. That's a huge red flag.

        Nope, he just shrugs his shoulders and says the purge job isn't working, and walks off. "I'll fix it next week"

        BTDTGTTS. Hell, I have half a closet of those t-shirts.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

          One of the very few good decisions Perforce has made is that the "delete from database" command is "obliterate".

          It's long, and carries a very clear meaning.

          Shame about the rest of the product. It's sad how many times they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

          1. Allan George Dyer

            Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

            Are you suggesting that "drop" might be a less than ideal choice, perchance?

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

        Especially because he should've checked the test system and would've seen nothing was being purged.

        From TFA; the purge job was copied from the test environment. So presumably it was working as intended in test.

        I, of course, have never copied anything from my test environment into prod. Erm, except for that one time when I ended up changing a name to "test" across everything. Oops, at least it was a quick fix.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

          Was talking about this potential scenario just yesterday... my suggestion was to make a sanity check that the count of rows of data was below some threshold before purging.

          1. FIA Silver badge

            Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

            Just make sure your comprehensive and regular backups work, then you can restore purged data if it's required.

            Any checks and balances you put in will create a false sense of security that will come back to bite either you or one of your decedents later on.

            If you're purging data that might need to be restored without a backup then you're probably doing it wrong.

            Storage is cheap.

            1. Marty McFly Silver badge


              Purge & delete is a good practice for garbage collection. Especially when dealing with something financial information. The more stuff that ends up stored for a 'just in case', the more likely it is to be purloined by a threat actor and ransomed off.

              Backups go where backups are supposed go. Leaving copies of stuff laying around is not a viable backup strategy. It doesn't matter that storage is cheap, delete it.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Counter-point

                This. 100 times. Where I work GDPR is something we have to be very aware of, yet I'm still having to hammer in to people that keeping large chunks of personal data "just in case" isn't clever. If (, well, 'when' should be the assumption) we have a security breach there should be as little as possible there and it should be as hard as possible to get to it.

                1. FIA Silver badge

                  Re: Counter-point


                  You should never store data you don't need.

                  The point I was (badly) trying to make is that you also shouldn't based deletion of that data on arbitrary rules (such as a test system will never have more than x rows).

                  It's much better to use technology to your advantage, storage is cheap, so make use of that. Backups these days can take many forms, you can snapshot even very high traffic systems quickly, they can be done frequently, and don't have to live too long, maybe a day or less.

                  This means you then don't need arbitrary rules around if you do or don't delete, as you have a day 'oh shit' buffer for that one time someone's muscle memory clicked 'yes' when they meant 'no'.

          2. Tim99 Silver badge

            Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

            I think it was Oracle 5 or 6 where I learnt (the hard way) to do a SELECT COUNT() from table where something; before using the magic of the the copy/paste buffer to replace the select clause with DELETE FROM or UPDATE —- SET —-. After another brain fade or two I learnt to put the delete/update statement after BEGIN TRANSACTION, then check the table with a select statement before committing (or rolling back) the transaction…

            1. W.S.Gosset

              Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

              An even better tip:

              Before running a new DELETE or UPDATE, just replace the first word with SELECT and inspect the result.

              Even just checking a few hundred rows usually flags any errors.

              As does the Temp space barfing on what was was supposed to be a precision strike :) (Monster predicates: 2 step: take just a # of rows AND precede with the same statement with COUNT(..) wrapping the col.list.)

              1. TDog

                Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

                Done that for 30 years +, along with, and this is particularly useful.


                Instead script creates and make edits in them. If you hit the run button by mistake the create will fail whinging about object already exists, and once you are ready simply change the create to an edit. Saved my ass often enough to be worth the small amount of extra effort, particularly if some bugger interupts you in mid flow.

                And speaking of mid flow, never stand next to a co-worker in the urinals. That way neither of you will be disappointed.

      3. StewartWhite

        Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

        If you think that including purge/delete in a test system and then migrating it to production is bad, try this: Starting a war games scenario on a production machine was so spectacularly stupid that even a legendary idiot such as Leonid Brezhnev was able to correctly point out just how appalling it was to the US prez.

      4. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

        Well, YOU will do or already did and haven't noticed yet. Until then you will continue with your high-mighty-I-am-infailable. Possibly after such an incident too, since you cannot risk your reputation.

      5. ColinPa

        Re: Our data keeps going missing - we want a hostage

        It was run on test to remove the dross from failed test cases which hadn't been cleaned up.

  4. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    I do have a dim memory of changing the date on the pc in order to get an old licence key to work or something ....

    1. Excused Boots Bronze badge

      Yes that would often work, on the basis that the licence key software was set to expire on a certain date as measured by what the PC ‘told it the date was’. Roll the date back, the software assumes that the licence is still valid and, well happy days!

      But assuming that changing the date on the PC would somehow and magically revert the HDD to an earlier point in time, is really a whole new grade of ‘not actually understanding how this shit works’ level!

      1. Grogan Silver badge

        My guess would be that he heard someone say "I had to restore my PC back to last week" (e.g. "System Restore" or similar, older, third party mechanism like "Go Back" from days of yore, or he may have heard of "Mac Time Machine" or something). That's about as generous as I can get here lol

    2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Not recommended to mess with the system clock

      "I do have a dim memory of changing the date on the pc in order to get an old licence key to work or something ...."

      Yes indeed, have seen that. A "critical" utility (probably could have been replaced by a macro or something) that couldn't have its license renewed because the author had gone out of business many years before. SOP was to set the system clock back before launching the utility. Unfortunately it was also SOP to forget to undo the clock change, so all hell broke loose in the main application when customer orders were processed and calculations were made off the system date. I don't think anybody ever sent out paperwork with such a wrong date, but it wasn't a simple fix because the database did a lot of updates that were not easy to undo. Call support.

      These days with all the certificate checking it's possible to render a system unbootable by changing the system clock. Hopefully someone has the BIOS password handy.

    3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      I have a dim memory of installing Norton's 3 month trial version on a machine with the clock set 10 years into the future, then resetting the clock afterwards.

      Bingo! a 10 year extension to the free trial.

      (That was when Norton was a decent choice of AV, so a long time ago)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        That's one of those solutions that id blindingly obvious it borders on genius, hence why most of us probably never thought of it. I know I didn't, so have one of these one me :-)

    4. Not Yb Bronze badge

      One way to force "hardware locked" key servers to work on other hardware, was to source a (mostly identical) machine, and then change the MAC address to match whatever the license server used to have.

      Since you're generally only doing this if the previous hardware went down in a very specific manner, at a time the license server provider can't update your information, that MAC won't be in use anywhere.

      Now that motherboards tend to have software visible serial numbers stored somewhat securely, that "fix" is more difficult if not impossible.

      What? You thought "Trusted Platform Module" meant _you_ could trust your computer?

  5. johnrobyclayton

    Lots of wannabe timelords out there

    I was on support for a Dealer Management System. ERP for car dealerships.

    I was supporting an application on VMS.

    It had a report scheduler that allowed you to chedule a report to be run at a particular time or on a repeating schedule.

    Think cron.

    Customer called in one day wondering why a report was taking so much time to finish.

    She new it would take an hour or so to finish running but she scheduled it a few minutes before with a start time of a couple of hours ago so it should have had the time to complete by now.

    I explained to her that VMS is a very capable OS and our software had some cool bells and whistles, but time travel was not implemented as available functionality.

    She was apprpriately embarresed.

    Many times over the years following I asked her how the weather was on Gallifrey.

    1. W.S.Gosset
      Thumb Up

      Re: Lots of wannabe timelords out there

      >Think cron.

      OK, I just did.


      CRON!! CRO-OONNN!! Dour god of the famed Comam the Barbariam!. CRO-OOOONNNNN!!!!

      1. Not Yb Bronze badge

        Re: Lots of wannabe timelords out there

        It's mavity all the way down...

  6. Bebu Silver badge

    how the weather was on Gallifrey.

    Dry old hole if "Hell Bent" & "Heaven Sent" are any indication - doesn't look like it had rained in those last 4 billion years.

    Not exactly a holiday destination I would have thought. Full of portentous, self important effete berks flouncing about in fancy dress which is a bit like the UK when I think about it - equally appalling weather too.

    Rassilon...Rishi next.

  7. JulieM Silver badge

    Last sighting of Yoshi

    I suspect "Yoshi" was last seen in the wreckage of a car at the bottom of a cliff, his foot still on the clutch and his hand still on the gear lever that would not go into reverse .....

    1. W.S.Gosset

      Re: Last sighting of Yoshi

      Sounds like a standard Project Review.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not heard about changing time and date for restoring files, but have used that trick in the past when dealing with evaluation licences.

    Also, in the past, we had to use McAfee Endpoint Encryption software. When there was a problem and we had to decrypt or sort out something, McAfee had this "code of the day" feature. In practise we had to ask the boss' son to call them and get the code - whcih could take ages. I did set the date in the BIOS to a previous day that we had the code for - and it worked!!!

    Anyway, son goes to McAfee for a training course and blabed about my workaround and they weren't too pleased aparently!! Not that I cared much - on a bad day I will often watch John M's video about removing the anti-virus software

  9. tweell

    Specific file date required

    30 years ago, my Reserve unit was tasked with completing a 2 hour CBT course. The proof was a 'certificate' printout in our file. We had two PC's, 40 people and a weekend to do it in. My warrant told me to make it happen.

    The certificate file was easily edited, but after I did so, it wouldn't print. I spent a while playing around with different ideas, and finally noticed that the original file had a date of 1/1/80. Aha! I took my copy, changed the date, and it printed away. An hour later everyone had their certificates.

    Beer because I never did get that beer the warrant promised me. He claimed I was futzing around until he offered that as a reward.

  10. xyz123 Silver badge

    A certain North-East England ex-council housing firm has the same sort of fail upwards crap.

    Basically a horrible woman decided "poorer" residents would have their yards and gardens taken off them for "development" and they could 'rent' them back for a modest fee...which wouldn't be covered by housing benefits basically. She tried to create a top/lower tier of residents.

    She also tried to get people who needed fence replacements in private houses adjoining association houses to pay her cheques made out to CASH or cash itself (elderly people asked to basically put £750 in her pocket) or they'd make sure the house next-door continued to have a ratty old fence.....

    She's a director with them now, because she stepped on dozens of peoples faces to get there.

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