* Posts by Andy A

424 publicly visible posts • joined 26 Mar 2008


BOFH: Groundbreaking discovery or patently obvious trolling?

Andy A

Re: Mehbe

I remember a computer from about 1960 with the useless-sounding instruction "Branch if approximately equal".

It's actually wonderfully useful if you are working out trigonometric functions by iterative series.

Lawyer guilty of arrogance after ignoring tech support

Andy A

Re: The rumored traditional IBM script for that...

I used to phone the person who logged the call and ask them to check the cables around the back. "Maybe the cleaners have dislodged something." Usually the office was some hell hole last visited by a cleaner in 1963.

Giving the user a chance to save face by blaming someone else, however imaginary, saved a lot of time wasting visits.

BOFH: Monitor mount moans end in Beancounter beatdown

Andy A

Re: compared with how much they (supposedly) save

Don't we know it! On one job, two of us supported about 400 users.

Servers and important comms racks had UPSs fitted. We monitored these, looking for the "battery failing" status lights.

Should one of these appear, I would wander half a mile down the road to a shop which dealt just in batteries. "Can I have six of these please?" "The ones we have are an extra Ampere-Hour. Is that OK?"

I would hand over about 75 quid, then submit the receipt as expenses. The UPS was back to full usability inside the hour.

Then a fresh contract, and we moved across under TUPE.

At the next UPS light, I did the usual. Cue the beancounters going ballistic. They will approve it this once, but never again.

A few weeks later, another UPS flags itself. I follow the Official Process, and log a fault for the central Server Team. Nothing happens. I check after a week and the call has been mysteriously closed. I ring the helpdesk and go ballistic. THREE calls later, and a whole month of escalations later, a Purchase Order is raised.

Another four weeks later, a parcel arrives, sent airmail from APC in the USA.

Inside is a set of batteries, of exactly the same brand sold by the battery shop down the road, but costing three times as much. The cast of the airmail shipping was over £90.

Andy A

Re: Excellent!

One of my employers had a horrible time accounting scheme which we could only access by phone. Once connected, we would spend a stupid amount of time pressing buttons to report our activity in tenths of hours. We had to quote 7-digit project codes, which expired without notice and had to be replaced by a new code for exactly the same thing. We normally found out about the expiry the week following their use, and had to spend another age hammering in a correction.

We normally logged a whole hour of our time to an Admin code, until it was randomly withdrawn. Being told that we had to then needed to log this time to "work for the customer", we emailed upper management asking why "admin for our company" should be paid for by the customer - and we copied the customer's management in. A fresh code magically appeared.

We were also instructed that the weeks timesheet HAD to be submitted before midday on Friday, and HAD to include all activities for Friday afternoon.

Making the problem go away is not the same thing as fixing it

Andy A

Re: The Story of Mal ...

The worst spaghetti COBOL that I've ever had the misfortune to deal with was a system which was supposed to be doing its last ever run.

The system was being retired, but, as always, there had been a delay and it unexpectedly had to be kept going into the next financial year. The documentation as to what input was needed to do this was nowhere to be found, so I was brought over to decode the source listing.

In the first ten pages I found eight occurrences of "ALTER <label> TO PROCEED TO <other label>" statements. Some GOTOs were ALTERed more than once.

It was horrible. I gave up. I ran off to get some anaesthetic. ====>

The woman who had previously done this admin task was paid some ridiculous sum to return and generate the single punched card needed.

How is this problem mine, techie asked, while cleaning underground computer

Andy A

IT can be a dirty job!

I've worked in lots of places where the kit got filthy. Two different companies were in railway engineering.

At one site management refurbished an office space in the middle of the shop floor. New cabling, the works.

Two days later the fashionable pale grey carpeting could only be seen in the unreachable corners.

Another site had a failed print server. I found it under a desk and extracted it. Having unplugged it, I took it to the sink at the far end of the same office and turned on the tap. After a great deal of scrubbing I could actually examine the box, (and see my fingertips again). The problem turned out to be the network flylead, which had been crushed between the wall and the leg of the desk. With a fresh supply of packets it was ready for another few months.

Andy A

Re: Smokers in the 90s

About 2005 we were tasked with a one-off upgrade job at a BAT place, because we happened to be in the same town. The reps were to bring in their "touch-screen" WinXP machines and get extra RAM and fresh software. We also used a cleaning solution and lots of wipes.

Knowing the smoking policy at their site (yes, just as above), I printed off a few large NO SMOKING signs before heading over to their site.

Thankfully, everyone there obeyed the instruction.

PEBCAK problem transformed young techie into grizzled cynical sysadmin

Andy A

Re: Plausible...

Twas the Victor 9000 / ACT Sirius 1 which had "singing" 5.25" floppies.

They squeezed 1.2MB onto the same media as "standard" 360K drives by having a lot more sectors on the outer tracks than the inner ones.

This was done by changing the rotation speed by using a stepper motor rather than one with fixed speed. Just use more steps per second as the head moves outwards. The encoding of the sectors remains the same.

RLL changes the way that bits are recorded onto the media; it is the changes in magnetisation which are important, rather than the direction.

The price of freedom turned out to be an afternoon of tech panic

Andy A

Re: D'oh

I remember with horror the beancounters at a hospital who did EVERYTHING in Excel - including "word processing", when they had a full MS Office installed.

How to get a computer get stuck in a lift? Ask an 'illegal engineer'

Andy A

Re: Lift emergency panels

I was once on the phone to HP regarding a warranty job on a failed all-in-one printer/fax/scanner. Not an uncommon occurrence.

Cue the hold music. Bob Marley.

"We're jamming..."


Andy A

I got paid to play Colossal Cave

At my first employer, one irregular task was to visit outstations to install a dial-up modem and an IBM 3276 terminal.

First job was to work out how Post Office Telephones had wired the connection. They apparently had eight different wiring schemes, some involving large jack plugs. The only one I had no trouble with was in Hull, who had their own un-nationalised provider.

With everything connected, I had to test things, and the only mainframe account I had access to hosted Colossal Cave.

The choice: Pay BT megabucks, or do something a bit illegal. OK, that’s no choice

Andy A

Re: Similar language problem on Windows 1 0

Even simple tasks are a pain when using Microsoft's remote console when keyboard layouts don't match.

Want the backslash? It may or may not even exist, never mind be usable. The number of times I've ended up pasting in one grabbed from the command prompt half a dozen times in a single command....

Douglas Adams was right: Telephone sanitizers are terrible human beings

Andy A

My mum's neighbour had trouble with his ADSL connection. He works for the tax office so can't be arsed to go in to the office. Therefore WFH is ESSENTIAL to him.

Cue an Openreach chap at the top of the pole across the road.

I took a quick trip out to do some shopping and on return checked for dial tone. Zilch.

Openreach chaps further up the road denied knowing anything about this.

So I walked back down the hill and confiscated the Openreach ladder still leaning against the pole. Back inside and logged the fault using my mobile.

It was fixed within the hour. The neighbour lost his ADSL again.

Andy A

At one place I worked some manglement type decided to "tidy up" the phone lines they were paying for.

A couple of lines had no outgoing calls, so the accounts were chopped.

Come the end of the month and we got calls from the official regulator. Why could they not access the special monitoring kit? It was the first we had heard about it.

What's more, the line needed to be able to dial out with an alarm condition during a power outage, so could not be routed through the PBX.

Manglement had to try and pacify the Regulator while they waited for the line to be re-provisioned.

Andy A
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Re: Maybe I am too American

Unfortunately the "Personnel Department" has been rebadged "HR" in most UK organisations.

"Tired TV Producers" was actually a typo for "Tri-D TV Producers", but seemed to fit so D.A. left it in.

Bizarre backup taught techie to dumb things down for the boss

Andy A

Re: Puzzled....

This backup was just to deal with the data transfer. Back up a user's PC to a server, install fresh drive, OS and apps. Restore user's data. Delete backup to make space for next batch of systems if needed.

Andy A
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Re: "you have to wonder how they get home each night

When I used the Underground every day (they were our customer), I often raised eyebrows among the tourists by walking along the platform to somewhere non-obvious. Of course I was right by the exit and away, while they were still fighting each other to actually leave the crowded bit of the train.

A proper Underground user can stand up and read a broadsheet newspaper without holding on.

Some route changes are not obvious except to the initiated. One regular trip was from Lambeth North to Cockfosters (where I'd parked my car). Look at the Tube Map and most people would change from the Bakerloo Line to the Piccadilly Line at Piccadilly Circus. Bad move. That involves lots of steps and long walks. Instead, carry on to Oxford Circus. Leave the train and walk 20 feet to the parallel platform for the Victoria Line. On to Finsbury Park, where a similar manoeuvre gets you on a northbound Piccadilly Line train.

Andy A

Re: "you have to wonder how they get home each night

Before 1989 then. They were then replaced by the Underground's 1938 stock. In 2020 these were in turn replaced by tarted-up 1978 stock.

It's called "recycling".

NASA 'quiet' supersonic jet is nearly ready for flight

Andy A

Re: less-noisy maybe but still un-sound

Of course there are still no conventional aircraft which can match the performance of the English Electric Lightning, which could go supersonic in a VERTICAL climb.

Nobody does DR tests to survive lightning striking twice

Andy A

Re: You had replacement parts for TWO lightning strikes?

IBM don't always have the parts to throw at a problem.

Early in my programming career I was involved in a project using an IBM 360/40. Our company made money by running the cheapest kit possible. At the insurance company across the road, the programmers had full use of a 370/158.

Our compile jobs were always pushed to the back of the queue. One week I submitted 30 compiles and only two got processed.

Usual operating shifts finished late on Friday evenings. So we decided that we programmers would come in on the Saturday to clear the backlog. Some had been operators earlier in their careers, so we all knew the drill.

We powered up the system (who remembers it being called IPL?) and started jobs.

20 minutes later the system stopped with a Parity error. Restart then.

10 minutes later the system stopped with a Parity error.

We reached the point where the system would not even IPL. Obviously something was warming up and then failing.

No engineering cover for weekends, so we rang the higher-ups, who could then get things moving for Monday.

IBM found a failed power supply. One was rushed in, and the mainframe was running by mid afternoon.

Of course we got NO jobs through that week, so we trailed in on Saturday again.

IPL - 20 minutes - Parity Check.

Ring higher-ups, head home.

This time we were informed that the replacement PSU for the ancient beast was the last one in the whole of Europe. System back up by Tuesday.

The operators were informed that under NO CIRCUMSTANCES were they to power down the system that Friday evening.

We cleared our backlog in time for a couple of pints. The mainframe was left idling.

About a month later the 360 model 40 was replaced - with a 360 model 50 !

Quirky QWERTY killed a password in Paris

Andy A
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Windows only allows a SINGLE keyboard layout at a time.

If you have been using the French layout, returning to the QWERTY physical keyboard and pressing the key marked Q will produce an A.

Andy A

Re: All your QWERTY belong to us...

It all falls apart if you use Microsoft's Remote Console.

The box you are controlling needs to have its keyboard layout set to the same as the machine in front of you for things to make sense.

Heaven help you if the password includes a pound sign ( £ ) and you have a US (or other national) keyboard.

Techie wasn't being paid, until he taught HR a lesson

Andy A

Re: Dumb Data Systems

I would have no chance there. Both my sort code and account number have leading zeros.

Andy A

Re: Sometimes HR can be too efficient

A place I worked was a multinational, and used Lotus Notes for email. There were exactly two people in the address book with my surname.

I was andy.a......@uk.company.com and the other was andrew.a.....@au.company.com

People would just fill in the name they knew and Notes would fill in the rest for them They assumed that if the system did not complain about a name, they must have typed it correctly.

So I would regularly forward messages about his company function, and he would forward things about IT.

So when I was on holiday, I turned up at the Brisbane office, confused the receptionist - "AndyA here to see AndyA" - and we went for the beers we had been promising each other.

Andy A

Re: Unique keys

The first company I worked for sold a standard system to keep track of leased vehicles. The obvious major key was the vehicle's registration plate.

A major re-write was called for when a Netherlands company informed us that in their part of the world, car registration numbers changed for a large number of reasons.

Andy A

Re: Unique keys

I have found the surname of my paternal great great great grandfather spelled in 9 different ways, none of which matches my own variant. It is only by cross-referencing other records that I became certain that the records all refer to the same person. Only one of those records has the same spelling as the baptism and marriage of his father.

Andy A
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Re: Unique keys

The head honcho at one site I worked at came up with a rule for system login names.

"Official first name", followed by hyphen, followed by "official last name".

Clashes would be negotiated with HR. As it happened, my login already followed his rule.

Then he remembered. He HATED his first name, and never used it. He came for advice.

I sold him the scheme as an extra level of security. Not only would a bad actor have to guess his password, but his user name too.

Boss put project on progress bar timeline: three months … four … actually NOW!

Andy A

I would have been tempted to demonstrate insertion of the router into another space of theirs.

See definition of BT above.

Andy A

Re: Poor Project Planning

They never have had people who understand the concept of "customers".

It goes all the way back to when it was "GPO Telephones". They quoted an 18-month lead time to provide a leased line for a contract which would run for 6 months.

We used a Man-In-A-Van to move the data.

That old box of tech junk you should probably throw out saves a warehouse

Andy A

Re: PSUs

Any failed Samsung <insert device type here> is almost certainly caused by the horribly cheap capacitors they used.

If they had spent a whole extra dollar on the unit, they would have extended the life by 10 years.

But if the whole business model is to sell a new <insert device type here> every year to the same people, which method brings in the most profit?

Andy A

In production, the rule is "If it works, don't fix it" - and then one day it DOESN'T work

Of course, though we officially support the office kit, we get "consulted" about production machines.

At one place, a machine with ONE WEEK of production left to do failed. The PSU had got sick of the dirt being accumulated.

In the dark corners of the production area, I extracted an ancient Compaq box from the filthy space under the machine.

I dug around in my scrap pile and found another Compaq, about 5 years newer, with an IDE interface and an ISA slot which could take the weird full-length interface card which drove the hardware. I cloned the existing drive thinking it might not last another week, and returned a much shinier box to the Black Hole.

It booted its copy of MS-DOS 5 and production could restart. I returned to the day job, updating WinXP machines to Win7.

Microsoft may charge different prices for Office with or without Teams

Andy A

Re: Deja vu all over again

Teams is of course installed in Windows without the option to uninstall it - and it nags everyone to log in to it every signin.

Datacenter fire suppression system wasn't tested for years, then BOOM

Andy A

Re: death trap

One place I worked forced smokers out into the fresh air. The facilities were strategically placed squares in the yards, each 4m on a side, with a bin for the fag ends.

No shelter. No seating. Very attractive in the middle of winter.

Thanks for fixing the computer lab. Now tell us why we shouldn’t expel you?

Andy A

Re: Command.com

The French were forced to invent new official computer jargon so as to stop the spread of Franglais.

So they ended up with "disque souple de trois pouce et demi", because there was already an official French word for "inch".

Of course 3.5 inch is actually the rough Imperial equivalent of exactly 9 centimetres.

BOFH: We send a user to visit Kelvin – Keeper of the Batteries

Andy A

Re: Keepers of...

People have very poor recognition of probabilities in general, so do stupid things - "it will never happen to me".

Things like the number of people you need in a group to be pretty certain that two of them share a birthday come as a great surprise to most.

My favourite is the probability of rain in a weather forecast, "40%" chance of rain works fine on the ground. However In aviation it is, with good reason, treated as "pretty certain". If you are going along at over 100mph, there is bound to be one of those little rain clouds somewhere in your path.

Duelling techies debugged printer by testing the strength of electric shocks

Andy A

I once had just this symptom described to me while on a site sorting something unrelated.

Lid off the suspect PC. No obvious loose connections until I pressed on the processor.


The pins on the chip would expand when warm and make contact. When cold in the morning they were just a tad too short.

I have no idea how the chip had rattled loose, but it was a permanent fix.

Thought you'd opted out of online tracking? Think again

Andy A

Re: Consent management is bollocks

Only a FEW do this. The vast majority tuck in a corner the "Legitimate interest" button. Looking there WILL show that EVERYTHING you thought you had opted out of is set to "allowed".

It's a straight logical OR for these sections in the site code, if they take any notice at all.

Andy A

It seems that nearly all websites have this "legitimate interests" bit tucked away, with EXACTLY the same headings as the ones we have just declined. How on earth is "Personalised ads" a legitimate use FFS ?

I've just visited a site to get a sample. The "Evening Standard" (a newspaper in London, England). Their "Legitimate Interest" tab doesn't even have a scrollbar so that you can see the things they are assuming you want to opt in to. They do however have a Cancel button, which takes you back to the place where you have implicitly agreed to all the shenanigans, and a Save button, which tell them that you have EXPLICITLY agreed to all the shenanigans.

PC tech turns doctor to diagnose PC's constant crashes as a case of arthritis

Andy A

Re: Don't get me started...

I think the word you were attempting to type was BURGLARIZATIONIFIED.

Left-pondians tend to add extra syllables for no logical reason. Maybe it has been going on for so long that they don't realise that there is a shorter word which means exactly what they wanted to say.

What's up with IT, Doc? Rabbit hole reveals cause of outage

Andy A

Re: They love cables.

Non-rodents have also taken a liking to automotive wiring. A couple of months back the news had a report of a street where urban foxes regularly attacked the cabling under parked vehicles.

It seems that the insulation used these days is not the plastic most of us would expect, but something made from soy beans. Tasty!

User was told three times 'Do Not Reboot This PC' – then unplugged it anyway

Andy A

Re: Remove, Throw, Call

In the days when I wrote cheques regularly, I was in the habit of checking the little window on my watch face to ensure I got the date right.

Even on my birthday.

New IT boss decided to 'audit everything you guys are doing wrong'. Which went wrong

Andy A

Sometimes people being stingy with the cash works in your favour

I was once heavily involved in a project to convert a whole government building to a fresh network system.

Luckily each small department had its own server, so could be treated as an independent unit.

The aim was for their staff to leave on Friday evening and return to their desks at 09:00 on Monday to find a fresh network stack (LAN Manager!), with all their files and apps intact. This obviously involved weekend working. This was an organisation where a "working day" for us techies meant "until things are working", but weekends would obviously need something extra.

So the firm came up with a scheme - you got £x for each weekend day, plus £y for unsocial hours. You would be expected to take Monday and Tuesday as your "weekend", while a few others did the inevitable mopping up. The company would claw back the £x for each of those days, but you would keep the unsocial hours part.

Then the beancounters obviously leapt in. If you work less than a day, it's pro rata.

That obviously meant that if you worked MORE than 8 hours, it's STILL pro rata.

We would hit one large or two small departments each weekend. So we ended up spending Tuesday to Friday on prep work, creating accounts and groups on LAN Manager and trial running of scripts. On Saturday we would do the bulk of the conversions in 12 hours, On Sunday we would check the data transfers and hit the users' boxes.

Unfortunately that LAN Manager had a stupid "feature" where it only allowed 8 sessions, despite having a licence for many more. Once you reached 8, you needed to reboot the server to get another batch added. Once you reach the new limit, restart it again. This meant touring the offices restarting PCs too - some half a dozen times.

It was usually about 08:00 on Monday when we had got every box up and running at the same time. Big fry-up breakfast in a cafe up the road, then off to bed.

So the overtime was enormous - 4.5 times £x+y, with £x clawed back for our Monday recovery period. For three months, my overtime payment, which had never been seen on my payslip before, was larger than my salary.

This can’t be a real bomb threat: You've called a modem, not a phone

Andy A

Re: Work bomb scare

My first job as in the offices over a paint warehouse. If the alarm went, you got out. Never worry about whether it was a drill or not.

There was hell to pay when we found a fire exit padlocked.

An office I used to frequent in Hemel Hempstead had signs on the exits claiming "THIS DOOR IS ARMED". Luckily my visits never coincided with any fire drills.

Cleaner ignored 'do not use tap' sign, destroyed phone systems ... and the entire building

Andy A
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Re: Water and IT

It's possible if there were 10 processor cores still working!

Andy A

Re: Concrete dust = Kryptonite

One large customer had servers dotted around the city. We used to do acceptance tests before placing fresh servers on contract - correct software.

We received a call asking for help on a server we had no previous knowledge of. Tape backups were failing.

I went to site once we had a fax stating that all work was chargeable.

I found a server room which was still under construction. Only about half the tiles for the false floor had been fitted. The server rack lacked all its outer panels.

There was cement dust EVERYWHERE.

The two tape drives, each costing around £1500, were scrap. They had probably never made a successful backup. I scrapped every tape cartridge which was not still factory sealed.

I vacuumed about two pounds of cement from the system board of the server to keep it running for the time being.

When the time came for its acceptance test, the server failed on several counts, including lack of a working backup solution.

An IT emergency during a festive visit to the in-laws? So sorry, everyone, I need to step out for a while

Andy A

Re: Didn't Happen of the Tear Award

It might not be your area of expertise, but you are "available" (i.e. cheaper than the real expert).

You just reach the point when you feel you are making progress on the problem and...

Somebody in Manglement insists that you spend an hour on a Conference Call to discuss what progress is being made. You might get another 15 minutes getting back to the pre-call state, and....

Somebody in Manglement insists that you spend an hour on a Conference Call to discuss what progress is being made, and why the Service Level Agreement has been breached.

BOFH and the office security access upgrade

Andy A

Re: Ah, time management systems

We had a system where everything had to be booked to various 6-digit codes, in units of 10ths of an hour.

Accuracy was obviously rubbish, since manglement demanded that the sheet for the week be completed by noon on Friday - to include Friday afternoon.

Codes randomly changed, or were expired, without anybody informing the people who used them.

True gold dust was a code for "Admin", to which we allocated the time spent filling in the timesheets - at least an hour per person each week. Once, on finding it expired, we received instruction that the time had to be booked to the Support code for the customer's account. We quietly showed the customer the email. An admin code was sent to us the following Monday morning.

Two signs in the comms cabinet said 'Do not unplug'. Guess what happened

Andy A

Been there and saw it happen

Around 1980, our mainframes had a comms rack containing modems connecting various sites with clusters of terminals.

I was in the computer room trying to diagnose one iffy circuit. I could have done much of the task from my desk, but it was a hot day and the machine room was a LOT cooler.

As I checked the blinkenlights, the whole rack suddenly went dark.

Brown trousers time. There would be about a hundred calls from users saying "It's not working". Luckily, I knew it was NOT anything I had done.

Looking round, I saw that the cleaner had just unplugged the cable which ran the whole cabinet to allow them to plug in a vacuum cleaner.

The wall socket involved had a double faceplate.

The left-hand receptacle of the pair was empty,

Knowing that no amount of labelling would prevent reoccurrence, we moved the disk racking three inches to the left, wedging in the correct plug.

Hot, sweaty builders hosed a server – literally – leaving support with an all-night RAID repair job

Andy A

Re: Botched Aircon

Once had a fault report of machines losing network connection at random. "Just reboot the switch" was the expected fix.

Travelled to site and signed out the key to the server room, which was a corner of the 5th floor office with metal and glass walls.

As I approached, I could feel the heat. Both of the aircon units had failed over the weekend.

It took about an hour with desk fans shifting cooler air through the door before normal service was resumed. The Compaq servers stayed up the whole time. The logs showed that the temperature had hit 55C before I arrived.

Luckily the aircon was the customer's responsibility.

Andy A

Re: Botched Aircon

At the place where I started work the mainframe was in the office space above a paint warehouse.

The aircon compressors were used to warm the huge space below.

We knew whenever they took on a fresh forklift driver, as the temperature in the computer room would suddenly rise beyond "too hot". Cue a rush down to get someone to shift the pallets stacked in the place obviously marked "KEEP CLEAR".

Eventually the bearings in the units gave up the ghost, rattling the fixings of the units loose. The aircon company's request to weld the mounting brackets back together was refused by the Fire Officer.