* Posts by Andy A

173 posts • joined 26 Mar 2008


'I'm telling you, I haven't got an iPad!' – Sent from my iPad

Andy A

More new kit causing havoc

In the days of Windows 3.1 and Netware servers, I was providing support to a large organisation which used Ye Olde Microsoft Mail. Normally it worked fine, with most problems involving failure of comms between two "postoffices".

On the run up to Christmas one year, the whole system died. No emails going in any direction. Mail clients hung on startup.

It turned out that someone had got hold of WIndows 95 and stuck it on the network, without permission. They had also started to use its supplied email client, which talked to the Microsoft Mail Postoffice.

However it lacked some of the restrictions of the earlier software.

The user had sent a 5 line email, warning people to book taxis early in the run up to Christmas. To everyone.

The list of recipients went over the 64K limit enforced in all earlier versions. Clients would overflow their buffers and start again.

The only way out was to physically visit each of the 40 or so Postoffice machines (no remote control software in those days) and delete the offending message file from its drive. Luckily you could work out which one it was from the size.

The fix was of course not covered under our contract, being obviously "User Error".

PC printer problems and enraged execs: When the answer to 'Hand over that floppy disk' is 'No'

Andy A

Re: Ah IT 'managers'

Have worked for managers at each end of that range in my time.

However the best ones were not very technical and had no pretensions to be, but recognised the ability in others.

When you really notice is when shit is hitting the fan. The good ones ask "Can you fix it?" and on being told "Yes", then say something along the lines of "Right. That's your job, Mine is keeping the high-ups from bothering you while you do it. Let me know if you need anything."

Unfortunately there are also the terrible sort who will drag you into a phone conference "to discuss progress" for 15 minutes out of every half hour.

'One rule for me, another for them' is all well and good until it sinks the entire company's ability to receive emails

Andy A

About that computer that out a man on the moon....

For those who want to know more about the computer hardware used in the landing, it's worth listening to the relevant "13 Minutes to the Moon" episode - https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csz4dn

It's 48 minutes well spent.

ALGOL 60 at 60: The greatest computer language you've never used and grandaddy of the programming family tree

Andy A

First actual job was with 1900 kit. Ended up supporting our very own version of George 2.

So do you remember the significance of 7036875 ?

Andy A

ALGOL 60 was the first language I learned, in 1973. At Warwick Uni, they reckoned that virtually any science undergrad would need computer skills, so this was a compulsory course.

They ran an ICL 4130 and a 4120 at the time - designed by Elliott, so presumably somebody at Elliott was an ALGOL fan.

Never used it in any commercial setting, but it laid the basis for the structure used in any number of languages since. When writing COBOL, I often sketched things out using ALGOL to check things made sense before getting the coding sheets dirty.

Who remembers Backus-Naur ?

Mirror mirror on the wall, why will my mouse not work at all?

Andy A

Re: problems getting started

.. but these days, at least one manufacturer has made the logo light up, thus wasting battery life.

A paper clip, a spool of phone wire and a recalcitrant RS-232 line: Going MacGyver in the wonderful world of hotel IT

Andy A

Re: An oldie, but a goodie

The predecessor to the Apricot in ACT's range - the Sirius 1 - actually DID have a bidirectional parallel port.

There was software (and matching hardware) which made it perform with IEEE-488 kit.

And no, you couldn't treat the serial port as though it was a minimalist IBM PC UART. It handled proper mainframe-style synchronous comms, with clock signals on 15 and 17.

Andy A

Re: Proper lash up

The town where I live had for many years a sign near one end of the main street announcing "NEW ROUNDABOUT AHEAD".

It was removed about 6 months after the roundabout was replaced by a set of traffic lights.

That awful moment when what you thought was a number 1 turned out to be a number 2

Andy A

So you have to PAY your dictionary to give a definition which agrees with you?

Captain Caveman rides to the rescue, solves a prickly PowerPoint problem with a magical solution

Andy A

It appears there is now only one design of power circuitry in use.

My mum's washing machine responded to the long press on the power button.

'Windows Vista' spotted doing a whoopsie over EE's signage

Andy A

Not just Fulham !

Had a very similar display of failure at my local branch. However it didn't manage to obscure the window claiming that EE were "THE Communication Experts".

Well, they certainly managed to communicate to me just how crap they are at running communication networks!

Clunk, whirr, buzz, whine. Shared office space can be a riot and sounds like one too

Andy A

Re: Uni days and laptop fans

Probably just time to clear the crap from the airflow. It's amazing how much fluff accumulates on the cooling fins even when you try to keep usage to "clean" places.

10 minutes with the usual screwdrivers and a brush usually suffice to get the temperature and noise back to the sensible range. Ignore it and the icon applies.

Beware the Friday afternoon 'Could you just..?' from the muppet who wants to come between you and your beer

Andy A

Re: In my day....

One pub I occasionally visited (when I could con someone else into driving) had a stock of various vintages of Courage Imperial Russian Stout - a wonderful 10% abv brew, made to a quality, not to a price. The recent stuff was well worth drinking, but I once had a bottle which was 30 years old and was like nectar.

Some years later I found a pub which had an odd bottle stuck behind their bar, and managed to extract it from them for what I considered an excellent price. It's a 1992 vintage, so just a couple of years to go!

No such thing as a "best before" date on beers of this strength!

The time that Sales braved the white hot heat of the data centre to save the day

Andy A

I'm pretty sure I remember that event.. I was working with a small ICL mainframe at a stockbroker's site, inevitably positioned in the basement,

Suddenly we were left with just the emergency lights. No chance of a generator in anywhere near that old building.

The disk drives had impressive bearings - they stopped spinning a full five minutes later.

Panic ensued. Data had to reach the Stock Exchange before The Deadline or serious penalties would ensue, and there was now no way to generate the mag tapes.

80-column cards were found, and staff started the data prep, under the emergency lights - on HAND PUNCHES !

Working for the IT company rather than the broker, I headed off, carefully forgetting to mention my speed with a hand punch.

Because the power event hit so many offices, the Exchange actually decided to waive the massive fines for that day.

Here are some deadhead jobs any chatbot could take over right now

Andy A

Re: "Microsoft scammers"

"If I've the time and in the mood I like to string these people on for as long as possible. I take the view that while they're talking to me they're not scamming someone more vulnerable / gullible. My record is keeping then on the line 45 minutes with them making another couple of follow up calls later the same day."

You are not alone in this quest, though I have yet to break the 40 minute barrier.

It matters not what the automated message says. It might be "Amazon auto-renew for 39.99" or "£600 has been withdrawn from your bank account", "your ISP will disconnect your internet" or any number of others. The aim is to get into your machine and steal stuff. In the olden days they had a minion who did the initial contact and passed you up the chain. The third person was the one you did the actual theft. Now the minion has been dispensed with because "$StupidStory Press One" is cheaper. The actual thief still doesn't know what the $StupidStory was. The person in the middle is tasked with working out whether you have stuff worth nicking.

Sometimes I try to talk about the place their phone call is supposed to come from. I used to look up the STD code, but these days they just spoof a random number and they don't know what that is. Today I feigned amazement that they had managed to get through because the news had just told me that "the whole of Doncaster is under 8 feet of floodwater" and that was where his phone call had come from.

Very occasionally I will even let them through to a VM which contains absolutely no useful data. It's a clean install and has visited no websites. It's a shame really, as I had told them I use Internet Banking and all sorts of other tempting stuff. None of them has yet noticed that the desktop wallpaper carries the VMware logo - a dead giveaway.

Once I have installed their remote control software (almost certainly full of malware), I sometimes announce that I have to go and answer the door, so they can get on with "fixing things" while I am gone.

They normally head for the saved credentials straight away. It is of course completely empty.

When I "return" a few minutes later I pick up the phone and ask if they are still there. "Good." I say. "There's a policeman here who wants to talk to you about computer-related crimes. He says that your local force should be breaking down your door any minute now."

Cue other end hanging up, and a swift re-image.

Remember the 1980s? Oversized shoulder pads, Metal Mickey and... sticky keyboards?

Andy A

Re: Been there...

IBM used the same EDCDIC byte value for £ in the UK and $ in the states. That let them keep the same instructions to format currency values.

The code used to print the US cent symbol was re-allocated in the UK to print the dollar sign.

My first employer was a bureau using weird combinations of equipment, and I ended up writing all sorts of translations.

The absolute peak was a big data prep job for a brewery. The data was keyed on Data 100 key-to-disk kit (EBCDIC, with UK keyboards), then written to an 9-track, IBM format tape. That was taken from the punch room to the main computer room, where it was read by one of my programs on the ICL 2904 (6-bit characters). JCL was added and the result sent down the line to Birmingham, where it was processed on the ICL 2960 to produce a 7-track mag tape on the last 7-track drive our company had. That tape was carried to the brewery site to be read by a Honeywell mainframe, where it was read in as a "non-standard" tape, in the same way as tapes from their own, ancient, data prep kit. In the test runs, ALL the symbols came out correctly. The customer was very surprised - their own keyboards didn't have a UK Pound symbol !

A History of (Computer) Violence: Wait. Before you whack it again, try caressing the mouse

Andy A

Re: Delicate adjustment

Had a fault on an ancient OKI (ML184?) where it started off OK, then after about 15 seconds the print head slowed and eventually stopped.

I realised that the print carriage had done so many millions of trips back and forth along its shiny metal guide rod that it had an oval cross section rather than the original circular one.

This being an engineering place, a can of WD40 was to hand, and full speed head movement was reinstated. The folk there then gave it a quick spray whenever they changed the ribbon.

The ML320 boxes normally lasted about 3 months in that place, where the old printers were approaching the end of their second decade.

Andy A

Re: Percussive maintenance

It was Rodime who made the drives for early hard disk Apricots.

They ran reasonably well until people arrived at work on a cold morning. They refused to spin up.

Investigation found condensation on the platters, and surface tension meant that the heads were acting as brakes.

The official work around, suggested by Rodime, was a thump on the right hand side of the case with the heel of the hand,

The heads bounced, and the platters turned!

Andy A

Re: Percussive maintenance

Where I first started work, the site engineers had a device labelled "CPU REPAIR TOOL", those letters having been burned, probably with a soldering iron, into the wooden handle of an ordinary claw hammer.

When the processor developed one of those intermittent, irreproducible problems, they would remove the backs of the cabinets, then run the hammer smartly along the edges of the boards in the frames.

This reseated the hundreds of boards into their sockets in seconds, and the machine would run perfectly again.

Behold the perils of trying to turn the family and friends support line into a sideline

Andy A

Re: "...says the person who never dropped a deck of punched cards"

Once found a hand punch rusting away at another site. I grabbed it and rebuilt it, as they were like gold dust at our site. This one even had the little tab stops.

Having cleaned the rust off, it was time to re-assemble.

Imagine trying to line up TWELVE closely-fitting metal punches with their respective holes, all at once, with strong springs trying to stop you getting them in position.

I vowed never to do another.

Some models of card reader let you get away with thumbnailing a chad back into a mis-punched hole. One of the fancier ones though turned the card through a U shape ready to stack. They needed the little self-adhesive metal foil things. Otherwise PING !

Dedicated techie risks life and limb to locate office conference phone hiding under newspaper

Andy A

Re: Guess he should have tried calling the center

The reason was given in paragraph 5. Shouty was ignoring any such requests.

A real head-scratcher: Tech support called in because emails 'aren't showing timestamps'

Andy A

Re: Bulk mail

But without all the crap around the important bit, how would they make any money? They depend on the advertising, you know.

A day in the life of London seen through spam and weak Wi-Fi

Andy A

- BTW is SEO spam still a thing?

Yes. Every now and then I look in my spam folder and see dozens. All of them claim to have looked at my website and know how to increase revenue from it.

That confirms that they have NOT looked at it, because they have missed the obvious contact details, and the fact that this is a personal site full of reference material rather than a business. It doesn't even generate a cookie, FFS.

All's fair in love and war when tech treats you like an infant

Andy A

Re: And stupid change too !

Damn! should have read 2 x 20p !

Andy A

And stupid change too !

Self-scan machines are all built to deal with US coins, so can't cope with change anywhere else.

Say you buy something costing 45p and insert a pound coin.

You don't receive the expected 50p coin and 5p coin as change.

You WILL get 3 x 20p coins and 3 x 5p coins. That's three times as many coins as a human cashier would hand back.

Prepare yourselves for Windows 10 May-hem. Or is it June, no, July?

Andy A

Sticking with 1903 for the name?

I wonder how many times the code contains

if WindowsVersionNumber = 1903 then....

Sure, we've got a problem but we don't really want to spend any money on the tech guy you're sending to fix it

Andy A

Re: Reverse Penny-Pinching

At one of the sites I used to support, a lot of the higher-ups had to wander the world to their various sites. The official corporate line was to use major airlines rather than the cheapo budget ones.

So staff ended up flying to London and then off to Stockholm. Of course they could have travelled a lot cheaper from the local airport to Vasteras. In fact it would have cost even less than the 70 mile taxi ride from Stockholm airport to their site - in Vasteras.

Why are there never free power sockets when my Y-fronts need charging?

Andy A

Re: Clothing generated electricity

The place where I first worked had metal partitioning, with glass from about 4 feet above floor level. A new carpet led to complaints from all and sundry, whatever their variety of underwear.

I took to wandering around with a pencil in my hand. There was often a loud crack as the charge went painlessly through it to the metal door.

It's a good job the paint in the warehouse below was safely tucked away inside steel cans.

My coat's the one with the emergency backup static discharge routing device in the pocket.

Crash, bang, wallop: What a power-down. But what hit the kill switch?

Andy A

I was once helping out by clearing a backlog of fault calls at a railway depot. Suddenly the PC I was working on went dark and all went quiet.

Enquiries revealed that someone up the road had chopped the BIG cable with an excavator, so it was not going to be a quick fix. I went to the server room and gave things a graceful shutdown before the UPS gave out. This was late afternoon after the office workers had left, so only the engineering staff were around. I headed over to them to inform them that I was heading off too, and commiserated with them that they would now be unable to brew any tea. "No problem" they said. "This buffet car gets its power from the overhead line".

Using WhatsApp for your business comms? It's either that or reinstall Lotus Notes

Andy A

Re: We are family

Could be worse. At one place I worked you got a JPG of the text as an attachment, meaning the email took roughly 20 times the capacity it needed to.

Users fail to squeak through basic computer skills test. Well, it was the '90s

Andy A

Re: Mice are not particularly intuitive

-- A bit like cars - it took them a while to standardise the clutch-brake-accelerator layout, even the steering wheel from an initial tiller back in the days of steam cars. For anyone learning to drive it is not initially intuitive, but once you learn it's like riding a bike and you couldn't use any other layout.

As someone who owns a car with the accelerator in the centre and brake on the right, I have to say I found it quite quick to get used to. Changing between that and my "modern" car takes only a couple of seconds to flick the mental "switch".

I still cock up the odd gearchange on the crash box though.

If I could turn back time, I'd tell you to keep that old Radarange at home

Andy A

Back in the early 80s the company I was with had a datacentre (multiple mainframes) in an industrial unit backing on to the West Coast Main Line.

They had to install a Faraday Cage to keep the mainframes happy, because the electric locos heading out of Euston could produce some hefty electromagnetic fields.

Luckily I was never there when the fire alarm went off - the emergency exit took you straight onto the tracks!

Oh, I wish it could be Black Friday every day-aayyy, when the wallets start jingling but it's still a week till we're paiii-iid

Andy A

Re: With perfect timing

The number of traders who spam everyone whose email address they can get their hands on is very annoying.

I once used an email address to allow a company dealing in bathroom fittings to tell me when they would be ready for collection. They seem to have assumed that I would be refurbishing my bathroom at least three times a week. As soon as the goods were collected, they were added to the Always Block list.

I can count on one finger the number of traders reaching my inbox who get it right.

Having bought something for car restoration from an online trader which was difficult to source elsewhere, they started sending me their circulars, usually once or twice a month. All are about their special offers, are for different types of product, or are pointing me at a video showing their products being used. When I buy more items (about once a year), they recognise that I am already in their list, and don't send me multiple mailshots. When they asked me about GDPR, I happily ticked the box to continue the relationship.

Sorry friends, I'm afraid I just can't quite afford the Bitcoin to stop that vid from leaking everywhere

Andy A

Re: I've seen a definite uptick in these

"Microsoft Office 365 email service rejects incoming traffic which uses a plus modifier on an otherwise valid alias address for my account."

Weirdly, Hotmail, which presumably shares code with Office 365, seems to process plus signs properly, even passing things down to an Outlook 2010 client.

Take my advice: The only safe ID is a fake ID

Andy A

Re: Silly first name.

I've never understood why the spellings used for the same sounds in English, Welsh and the various Gaelics ended up being different.

After all, the people who first wrote them down - probably monks - would all have had the same type of education.

Abracadabra! Tales of unexpected sysadmagic and dabbling in dark arts

Andy A

Physics has the celebrated Pauli effect, where equipment suffers failures when a certain person is present, even if they don't actually touch anything.

The story is that some complex equipment at Gottingen unusually suffered a failure when Wolfgang Pauli was NOT present, and this unusual state of affairs was commented on. It turned out that Pauli happened to be changing trains at Gottingen at the time.

EU wants one phone plug to rule them all. But we've got a better idea.

Andy A

Re: Plug cable entry angle

That style of connector is only available for non-earthed applications, and seems common on phone chargers.

The "earth" pin is a plastic moulding; having a metal pin for electrical protection would require quite a bit of engineering. It would need to be able to guarantee electrical contact full-time, or disconnect the live pin in case of failure.

What amazes me is that virtually every UK 13A plug is shipped with a hard plastic "condom" over the pins. The pins need no protection because the plug is very robust. They are never live when unplugged from a mains socket. The only possible reason is when the paintwork on white goods might be scratched by a loose plug when in transit. Why did the cable for your last purchase of computer equipment have one when it was also inside a plastic bag?

Either my name, my password or my soul is invalid – but which?

Andy A

Re: Gmail addresses with dots

Could be worse.

One place I worked at used


Luckily, in my case <country> was just uk, but any number of services couldn't cope with the total length of the string, and many more borked at the dots. It's annoying to find there isn't room in the box to type the whole email address.

Kept the spam down though.

No, seriously, why are you holding your phone like that?

Andy A

Meters with displays? I remember them!

Swapping out the existing gas meter at my mum's house seems to have become something of a saga. The current device, not the first one to occupy the small cupboard by the front wall, lost its display about three years ago, its "10 year" battery having become exhausted.

There have now been over 20 abortive visits by various engineers. It seems that the neat 1990s model of meter has been replaced in the manufacturer's catalogue by one double the volume. Whereas in electronics, new kit is smaller and uses less power to do the same job as old kit, for gas the opposite is true.

The corresponding "smart" meter is bigger still - they say they only have one model, which presumably has to be able to cope with the gas consumption of a large factory rather than just a pensioner's bungalow.

The obvious solution would be to replace the meter with another of the same model fitted with a new battery, but it seems they carefully destroyed every single one.

Naturally, the supplier has been "estimating" the consumption, and they are really good at that, aren't they?

User spent 20 minutes trying to move mouse cursor, without success

Andy A

Re: Rubber bands

Last century I spent a while dealing with end-users and their faults. We tried to avoid sending an engineer half way across London for simple calls, such as "erratic mouse" reports.

Most of the mice were Microsoft ones, which were quite decent quality. The rollers were actually metal rather than the cheapo plastic ones.

Speak to the user and introduce them to the extraction of the ball of their mouse. "You see the two metal rollers?" "Yes." "You see the two little rubber wheels in the middle of them?" "Yes." "That isn't rubber. It's gunge."

Shortly thereafter, they could wander round their office earning themselves brownie points for sorting out everyone else's erratic mice, thus keeping our profits up.

In defence of online ads: The 'net ain't free and you ain't paying

Andy A

Re: The thing is... it's nothing new.

The likes of ITV and Channel 4 force their ads when using their catch-up services. They disable the FF key specifically.

It's doubly annoying if you have a flaky connection, and replay gives up late in the programme. You are then forced to restart from the beginning because of their rubbish coding. Attempt to go to where you left off and you have to sit through the "ad breaks" from scratch again. Hoorah for the Mute button.

Every Freeview PVR that I've seen allows fast forward in recorded content, where it can't spot the difference between programme and ad, so that's my preferred option.

Don’t talk to the ATM, young man, it’s just a machine and there’s nobody inside

Andy A

Re: Always count...

I was lucky a few years ago to GAIN by this fault. The folded note had missed the counting system completely.

Cue bonus pints!

AWS outage killed some cloudy servers, recovery time is uncertain

Andy A

Now I know where Ancestry keep their servers

Got thrown off Ancestry around quarter past eleven UK time last night. Attempts to log back in, using any of their domains, received a "something went wrong" type error.

Now I know why!

Not sure how long it took to restore service, since I just went to bed instead. It was back again when my alarm went off this morning.

Want to know what an organisation is really like? Visit the restroom

Andy A

Re: We need some ...

One place I used to visit seemed to have some sort of phobia about wet skin.

The Gents had a roller towel, an electric dryer, a paper towel dispenser and an old-fashioned hand towel.

All properly working!

BOFH: We know where the bodies are buried

Andy A

Re: Metaphorical chicken

....Budweiser has flavour?


They proudly claim to filter it through activated charcoal, which removes all trace.

The pint in the icon has more flavour (and I'm not referring to the 3D version it was based on).

Best thing about a smart toilet? You can take your mobile in without polluting it

Andy A

Re: "The obvious quote from "The Third Man":"

I am led to believe that the line was not in the original script, but was ad-libbed by Orson Welles.

Typical for an American not to understand geography.

User asked why CTRL-ALT-DEL restarted PC instead of opening apps

Andy A

Re: Feeling Old...

Not only do I remember TSRs, but I wrote a few.

The ultimate combination program had differing, but related, effects when (a) installed as a device driver, (b) run in DOS to become a TSR (c) run in DOS to pass information for the TSR to process and (d) run inside Windows 3.x.

User stepped on mouse, complained pedal wasn’t making PC go faster

Andy A

Re: Can I just leave this thought with you?

I recently introduced a few groups of long-term Windows users to the concepts of Control-X, Control-C and Control-V. Pointing out the handy adjacent positions on the keyboard helped get the message across.

All grasped the concepts with what can only be described as glee as they saw how many of their tasks would be quicker and easier.

Now all I have to do is get them using Tab to move from one field to the next in dialog boxes. I reckon that getting them to log in without touching the mouse should be deemed a success.

Self-driving cars still do not exist even if we think they do

Andy A

Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

.....Here is an interesting 'throughabout' in The Netherlands.

There is a pretty close UK (driving on the left) equivalent at junction 23 of the M6. Traffic leaving the M6 can turn right in the middle of the roundabout directly onto the A580.

UK exam chiefs: About the compsci coursework you've been working on. It means diddly-squat

Andy A

Re: CompSci without coursework

Reminds me of all those industry qualification exams which ask "what command would you enter to....." and where the automatic marking framework checked for "EXACTLY EQUAL TO", when their product in the real world allowed for shorthand versions.

Microsoft, CISCO and (back in the day) Novell - we are blaming you!



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