* Posts by irrelevant

169 posts • joined 30 Mar 2010


Quick thinking and an explanation for everything – key CTO qualities


Re: NASA, Mars and Sojourner ....

I was hanging about in the back of a meeting room, on hand for if any technical questions came up during a presentation of our accounts packages to a potential new client. They'd not yet started, but everybody was present, potential clients included, when the salesperson turned to me and said 'Hey, when I was checking this out earlier, I got an error message when I did this', did it again, and the program crashed...

..on the huge projection[0] splashed on the wall in front of the visitors ...

([0] dreadful resolution, monochrome LCD panel that was placed atop a school-memories-type overhead projector!)


Re: I've been fired ...

Yups ... ~1998 or so,we had more than one customer complaining that the file server was full, again. Doing a search for >100MB files (big for the day) would regularly turn up dodgy video files in personal folders. All downloaded over their 64Kbps ISDN links, and usually in the folders for executive level accounts, as few underlings had internet access at the time. We'd just delete them on-sight and report the problem solved. Nobody ever complained ...

When you're On Call, only you can hear the silence of the clicks


Phones ...

I was given a work phone, back when they were still relatively shiny and new.

Eventually, I got given one that came in a bouncy rubber case - it seemed that the cheap plastic which nokias of the day were made from couldn't cope with being dropped when you had your head up in a suspended ceiling running cables.

I don't think I ever intentionally dropped one, but I had one of those bosses that used to phone about every 10 minutes to see how you were getting along, and juggling cables, tools and phones atop a ladder was never a good idea.

There ain't no problem that can't be solved with the help of American horsepower – even yanking on a coax cable


Re: Beware mystery cable runs

I had need to run a couple of network cables under a footpath into a portacabin. Only about three feet, but they wouldn't countenance stringing then across up high, which was somebody's first suggestion. I just ran sone 50mm drain pipe, left it with the cables in and a length of cord, just in case I had to come back.

Couple of months later I did need to go back.. found some joker had added a mains power cable to the mix, using my pull cord, obviously, and hadn't bloody replaced it..


Re: Staples

I was one of the first ADSL subscribers in our area (one of Freeserve's trial installs before full launch, 1999 I think) and thus got an engineer install. I'd already got a wired telephone extension running through the cellar to the back room where the computer was, so expected them to just do whatever gubbins was needed back there. But no, back then it needed a new master socket at the front, and another extension running the ADSL port to a special RJ11-only socket placed next to the existing telephone one in the back. At least he used the cellar route. I got the full 512Kbps, too. (But the exchange was only 200M away down the road..)


Re: Closest I've had to that ....

One of the reasons I bought my own domain, 1996 or so.. I was already on my 2nd ISP, and realised that using their included email addresses wasn't going to be a long term solution. The Mrs came with a hotmail account, for much the same reasons. I've lost count how many times we're swapped ISP since then...

Inflated figures and customers who were never there. Just another data migration then


Re: Inconvenient truth.

I'm sure I've told this one before, but..

Many years ago, the small firm I worked for landed a contract to install a room bookings and accounts system for a raft of council owned leisure centres. All went swimmingly (even at the sites without a pool) until it came to the monthly report that went off to the council to show how well the centre was doing. Try as we might, we couldn't get our report to match their old one, even with their historical data in our system. The council had told us how the figures were supposed to have been derived, which was how we had written the report. Theirs was written in, I think, Lotus 123, but it could have been a text editor for the number of calculations it made use of: zero. Every field was just typed manually into the cells.

In the end we asked the staff how they produced the figures at the end.. "oh, we just fiddle around with them until they look right!"

We left our report calculating things the "right" way. I am fairly sure they were left with their old pc, though, so they probably carried on making things up to send onwards.

Typical '80s IT: Good idea leads to additional duties, without extra training or pay, and a nuked payroll system



The main problem with payroll problems is that it's the staff that get most disadvantaged by them. I remember as the newest person there getting pulled out of a work Christmas dinner to talk to a client with a payroll problem. Got back just as everybody else was finishing eating, and still had to make a 250 mile round trip on Boxing Day, when I was supposed to be off and spending time with my family, in order to sort out whatever had gone wrong. The client told us, in no uncertain terms, that if they didn't pay their several hundred minimum-wage care home staff on time, they wouldn't still have most of them the next day... Not sure I ever got thanked, or recompensed, by work for that, though the customer was fairly happy I recall.

Competitive techies almost bring distributed disaster upon themselves – and they didn't even find any aliens


Re: I Suppose...

Ah, Essex MUD.. Started off using the usually short lived accounts that got shared around bulletin boards, hen I got my own PSS account in order to play, but after the first bill came in, reverted to using work's... Since it was shared between the whole site, I don't think my usage was noticed..

JANET was fun to explore too!


Beware the fresh Windows XP install: Failure awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth


Re: Almost mouse free

We've had that! Live mouse brought in by the cat and released. We've still not found it, and I've put out (humane) traps and everything... No nibbling on cables, thankfully, but to make up for it, one of the cats loves licking wires, USB charging cables mainly. Another likes plastic carrier bags. I think we're living in a madhouse sometimes.

Finally. one of the older cats, whom is not normally known for catching anything, decided one day to bring home a dead goldfish! After we took it off her, she vanished outside and came back a few minutes later with another one, still slightly alive... By the time of the fourth, she'd obviously got it down to a fine art, as it was alive enough to last several months in the old tank hurriedly brought down from the top of the kitchen cupboards!

Faxing hell: The cops say they would very much like us to stop calling them all the time


Except when somebody scans in a document, embeds it within a Word document, and sends you THAT as an attachment ...

Probably find the original document was typed ALL IN CAPS with spelling errors thrown in for good measure, too..



A few years ago we had several months where we got a spate of fax calls on our home phone. They would usually try two or three times then go away, and 1471, if it worked at all, would give me different numbers from all over the country that mostly didn't show up on google and answered, if rung back, with a fax tone. After one didn't give up and bugged us most of the afternoon, I dragged an old fax machine I'd bought at a boot sale out of the back of the cupboard and plugged it in, and on the next call, out popped a fax. A Prisoner Transfer Form from some court somewhere, giving full details of the offender and what he had been charged with and where he was supposed to be going to. With the court details at the top, I managed to get hold of the person sending the fax, whom was suitably horrified that I'd received it.. it seemed they had been trying to send it to Securicor or Group 7 or some such outfit with the vans with bars at the windows.. Googling them locally I found they had a single digit difference between their public fax number and our landline. Talking to the woman at court, it seems that there was a many-times-photocopied list of fax numbers that had been passed around the courts, and we were on the receiving end of enough noise in the photocopying that one number could look like another!!

The ICO were very interested, but by the time they got back to me I'd shredded the evidence, and we hadn't had more calls: The courts were supposed to have already transferred onto some electronic system (probably email...) by then, and were apparently told to stop using faxes, even as backup!

Das reboot: That's the only thing to do when the screenshot, er, freezes



I had a customer once that in all seriousness told me they were "half way along" a rather lengthy road. Thankfully they had enough signage up that I spotted them.


Re: Yes, Daily, or even hourly!

Even more annoying when you don't actually have PowerPoint installed yourself. Had that one, years ago, in an attachment respoding to my job application. Took me a significant amount of trouble to find a copy to install to find out that all they had attached was a map to their office!

Wanna be a developer? Your coworkers want to learn Go and like to watch, er, Friends and Big Bang Theory


Re: Greedy and careless

No mention of PHP? I thought that was almost universally used, now?

Behold: The ghastly, preening, lesser-spotted Incredible Bullsh*tting Customer


Re: Yes the users are bad

Absolutely. I've had callers saying they had an error doing something, and when asked what the error was, "I can't remember, it was yesterday!" That's only beaten, of course, by the "I don't know, it's working now." The only resolution is to ask them to call back a bit quicker, like when the error is still on-screen, if happens again. What they expected me to do when they called, I have no idea. Consult my crystal ball, perhaps?

Elevating cost-cutting to a whole new level with million-dollar bar bills


Re: "Cars of the day... " Harumph. I owned an original shape Ford Ka from new.

Turn of the century, I was driving an old VW Passatt for work. Some years old by then, built like a tank, and handled like one. This day, if just left the office and was heading up hill to the main road. An oncoming white van, VW Caddy ISTR, decided it was going to turn across in front of me to get into an office car park. He didn't make it, and I hit him squarely in the side.

The van was written off.. The Passatt needed a couple of new lights..

Which reminded me.. As a kid, someone in a stolen car hit my dad's elderly Datsun estate parked on our front drive, pushing it into the opposite wall, squishing both sets of lights. Rather than spend many times what the car was worth fixing the mess, he just wired up some trailer lights in their place. It looked dreadful, but worked, and the car passed its annual MOT for many years thereafter..

Real-time tragedy: Dumb deletion leaves librarian red-faced and fails to nix teenage kicks on the school network


Upvote for the MUD reference. To young to be at uni, my only use of JANET was to get through to Essex, Bangor or whatever else we could find a copy. Later on I even paid for my own PSS account for a bit to connect through..

First impressions count when the world is taken by surprise by an exciting new (macro) virus


Email virus

I am still fairly proud that I discovered a previously unknown virus at a customer site, mid 90s. It snuck in via outlook express, and distributed itself by setting a signature block. Their antivirus (symantic I think) didn't spot it, even when scanning an isolated example and I couldn't find a reference on the various av vendor sites. Submitted it to them, and it was duly added a day or two later. Thankfully it wasn't anything destructive..

I did only find it because one of the users spotted that their usual signature had vanished... They dealt a lot with manufacturers in China so I suspect it came in that route, but never did trace the source properly.

Like a Virgin, hacked for the very first time... UK broadband ISP spills 900,000 punters' records into wrong hands from insecure database



I got the email about the beach too. The email they sent to had only been given them on a "cable my street" enquiry in 2015. They also emailed me in 2018 to tell me "we hold some of your details, as required or permitted by law or regulation and will do so for a limited period of time. Don’t worry, they’re safe and sound."

I guess five years is a "limited period" by some definitions, but I doubt this can be considered "safe and sound"...

Broadband providers can now flog Openreach's new IP voice network in bid to ditch UK's copper phone lines by 2025



"They need to make this the standard for almost all new installs before they try to get people to switch."

Not sure if this is the standard now, but a relative just moved into a new-build flat, just a cheap block, nothing premium, and it had an Openreach FTTP box in a cupboard waiting for him. (and Virgin Media pre-wired in.) I was most jealous; the bit of wet string we have to suffer barely manages 30Mbps VDSL and that's with me able to see the cabinet from the bedroom!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to save data from a computer that should have died aeons ago


At least the discs should be directly readable. I came across a Pugin for Word last year that would allow it to read AmiPro files. I've not looked at any 123 files lately, but excell used to read them directly. If it doesn't now, installing an old version might do the job.

Day 4 of outage: UK's Manchester police deploy exciting new carbon-based method to record crime


Re: Crayons

I'd not be so sure about that...


That's what makes you hackable: Please, baby. Stop using 'onedirection' as a password


Re: Greedy and careless

I find Password123 meets most website rules ....

What I find odd about the list of passwords in the linked article is some of the really obscure ones... Did 33K people really choose "0.00000000" or 372K people choose "g_czechout" ... with an underscore too? I'd be tempted to believe that latter was a parsing error.

Windows takes a tumble in the land of the Big Mac and Bacon Double Cheeseburger


Trial expired

There's a McD I have visited a few times recently that's got one of the drive through displays showing a Windows dialogue box in the middle advising us that it's running a "DEMO licence" (their caps) of "Copyright 2007 K-POS."

BSODs on the indoor screens are so common I've stored bothering to take pictures of them now. As are the touch screen ordering terminals that ignore you touching them until they are rebooted.

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



1980s, I was an apprentice in my teens at Ferranti, working in the computer room (Three VAXen, 11/750, 11/780s if I recall, and various micro axes) and arrived one morning to consternation. One of the massive floor to ceiling sized aircons had failed, and the other had been forced to work so hard that it had iced up, rendering it useless too..

Later in my career, visited a customer (whom would later be better known as Phones4u) in their brand new offices in Stoke, and the drip tray on the aircon had overflowed, pouting water into the "computer room." It missed their single server box, but did make a mess of the power distribution panel due the entire floor!

The delights of on-site working – sun, sea and... WordPad wrangling?


Re: How did that work ?

I've certainly used WordPad/write to edit binary files. As long as you go into overwrite mode and stick to changing visable text you'll be OK. Don't let it insert or delete anything, and keep a backup first.

Indeed, to this day I add write (and notepad) to the Send To menu.

IT exec sets up fake biz, uses it to bill his bosses $6m for phantom gear, gets caught by Microsoft Word metadata


Re: Greedy and careless

Surely true if you are intending to become an official reseller. But there's nothing to stop you buying the kit at retail price from existing channels and selling it on at a markup.

Why is the printer spouting nonsense... and who on earth tried to wire this plug?



Place I used to work occupied the upstairs of a two storey building that had obviously been a single unit originally, before being extended sideways and then eventually split horizontally . There was only the one incoming mains, and one meter for both upstairs and downstairs. This made working out the electric bill with the neighbours "interesting". What was worse was the half dozen or so different fuse boxes spread all over the building, often feeding sockets or lights in the other half or other level! But the icing on the cake was a loose 1.5mm T+E near the meter that, on investigation, linked between two circuits which were otherwise separately fused in different boxes in different locations.. It made isolating the circuits something of a puzzle until I found it. I can only assume that at some point a fuse had blown, but access to the other box wasn't possible, and this was added to get the circuit live again quickly, and never removed.


Re: Goal the frauds

I had some work done a few years ago which included fitting an extractor fan to an understairs w.c. This involved a mains feed from the lighting circuit, but also a wire from the switched feed to the light, so it would know to come on automatically. Building control looked, and required it to be isolatable, so the builder's tame sparky wired it with a simple switch in line with the mains only. No matter how I tried to explain it, he just couldn't understand why that wasn't enough..

After his mate came round to Part P certify it (thought they could only certify their own work?) and I explained again, we ended up with a three pole switch on a pull cord, plus an RCD on the feed to the room as the existing fuse box didn't have one on the lighting. I didn't trust "professionals" before, but this confirmed my views.

Beware the trainee with time on his hands and an Acorn manual on his desk



My school computer room was fitted out with Tandy TRS-80 Model 1s. The network consisted of individual links from the cassette ports to a Model 3, with a giant rotary switch box to select the one it would talk to. You shouted to the teacher your wanted to save, he'd select your machine, and you CSAVE'd... No high speed network here, it took ages!


Re: Ah the good old days

A good description of os commands. But the station number was set by removable links inside a Model B, or in the battery - backed CMOS RAM on the later systems. (The links or switches on the model B keyboard set things like default screen mode, FDC speed, auto boot, etc.) A copy of SetStn in an insecure location was fun if you were using Masters..

I'm confused by the reference in the article to an Apple as fileserver, though. That's not a solution I've ever heard of before.

That code that could never run? Well, guess what. Now Windows thinks it's Batman


Even Today

Just a few days ago I got a "this should not be possible" error message, in the app from a large multi-national fast food chain.


I'm still not that Gary, says US email mixup bloke who hasn't even seen Dartford Crossing


Re: TV

I had a cat once that used to bring cucumbers home! There must have been a very annoyed gardener nearby, growing these things and seeing them go missing. Apart from the one still in shrink-wrap. She'd drag them in through the cat flap and call her kittens, whom would arrive and look very confused.

She was half ferral, we were looking after her for Cat's Protection, which might have been a reason for her weird tastes in food..

Hyphens of mass destruction: When a clumsy finger meant the end for hundreds of jobs


Re: Nostalgia ain't what it used to be...

And 1990s, we used to run up to seven users on an 8086 box.. When 286 became available, we could run a whole office from one. "BOS" operating system, serial dumb terminals, each user could have multiple sessions open. Fun days.

When the IT department speaks, users listen. Or face the consequences


Re: Been on the receiving end of that

My parents were both teachers.. There were several tales of stacks of marking being left on the roofs of cars as other teachers drive home..

IT protip: Never try to be too helpful lest someone puts your contact details next to unruly boxen


Re: payroll

Payroll.. I had to do a 250 mile round trip on a previously booked day off, 27th December, in order to fix payroll at a customers. 1990s, using an archaic synchronous dial-up to send the payments to BACS, which was not working. Failure to fix would mean well over a hundred minimum wage care home employees wouldn't get paid and, I was warned, probably wouldn't turn up to work again! So no pressure there then..

Boffins blow hot and cold over li-ion battery that can cut leccy car recharging to '10 mins'


Re: Power required

Economy.. Admitedly it's a good few years since I last looked, but I considered it for overnight washing/drying machine use. It turned out that the daytime rate was more expensive than on the standard tariff, which would have more than obliterated the possible overnight savings.

We're late and we're unreliable but we won't invalidate your warranty: We're engineers!


Re: The system is designed around failure and blame

I'll never forget the time I was stood on a step ladder running a cable to a terminal at a clients. Pushed up a false ceiling tile which promptly pivoted on my hands, and a large and heavy hammer dropped to the floor about three inches in front of my eyes..

I was luckier than the time I was wiring up a socket and the Financial Director of the client decided to help by replacing the very old and very heavy ceiling tiles that I'd moved, and dropped one on my head. That time involved a trip to Casualty and three stitches..

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


Re: It was something we used to do in the 80s

I remember taking the lid off a misbehaving Dell 486 PC at a furniture manufacturer. Office was only one door away from the workshop. When I cut to look inside, there was no sign of the motherboard, just this gently undulating mat of sawdust..

I discovered the world's last video rental kiosk and it would make a great spaceship


Re: Love Film?

I always check the discs when buying in charity shops. Found a DVDR with porn on it in a pc game box in the kiddies section once.. Grainy image on a label made it obvious. The staff were suitably horrified, as they passed it about among themselves..


Re: Love Film?

I noticed the local Sainsbury's had a display "DVDs from £2" the other day.. Those will be new, too. Poundland has refurbs at £1. And the local charity mega-store sells all media at 2-for-£1. (even video games.. They have a massive direction of Fifa games..)

Paying to rent now just seems too expensive at any price!

(I'd love one of those old kiosks to play with, though, but my wife would kill me!)

Samsung on fridge cert error: Someone tried to view 'unsavoury content' in middle of John Lewis


Re: Wi-Fi for all!

And mine, actually an old openreach box that talks ppoe, cable goes to a socket that heads upwards three floors to the rack in the attic where I have a firewall box and two 24 port s switches that then feed the rest of the house. Even then, most rooms ended up with their own smaller switches. All managed switches, with vlans to keep the IoT things (sorry!) away from the games console away from the PCs, etc..


Re: Amateur "hacker" ?

Ah, BBC Micros..

I forget the exact details, and can't check right now, but something like


$&902="Rude message here."+CHR$0


Would save a nice message for the next time Break was pressed, and the only way out was to power cycle the thing.

Don't look too closely at what is seeping out of the big Dutch pipe


Re: We never said anything to anyone...

Ah yes. Client with an on-demand dial-up ISDN connection used for email to a local server only. Nobody was to have Web access except a few managers. Was going fine until they suddenly got an absolutely massive phone bill. It seems one of the mangers had discovered the BBC radio streaming. This was the point we put in a squid proxy and filter, too.

Lies, damn lies, and KPIs: Let's not fix the formula until we have someone else to blame


Manglement Reports

Ah yes...

I remember, company I was working for was installing new computerised booking system in a council-owned leisure centre. The council wanted a particular report, some sort of analytical thing, which previously the staff used to produce via spreadsheet. Feed in the daily figures, out pops the report with some statistics on the end. We were given a few samples, but even in the original spreadsheet file, there was no calculation coded, just typed numbers in the relevant fields. So we asked, and were given the spec for the report, and coded it up accordingly. But when we ran it using the figures on the sample spreadsheets, we ended up with different values at the end compared to theirs. So we asked the local staff, and were told "Well, we just fiddle about with them until they look right!" Or look good, perhaps ... :)

(We ended up leaving the report calculating the statistics as the council wanted, as they were paying the bills. I have no idea if the staff submitted that, or carried on using their spreadsheet..)


Re: bigwigs had spent the last year working on ... "numbers totally unrelated to reality"

"Next person to need that number then references you. In a couple of years, all the caveats are lost, and your number has become the definitive reference. Noone questions it any more. "

My dad was a mathematician. He used to tell me the story of when he worked for Avro, designing (parts of) aircraft. Must have been 1960s or so. Now the wings of a plane are filled with ribs, which give them the strength. But when he asked how they were specified, dimensions, separation, etc., he was referred to the previous model of plane, just take it's values and adjust a bit for the different weight. He did though have the formulae for calculating all this based on wing loading, etc., but nobody actually used them, they just took the previous plane's values, and fiddled a bit, and had been doing this for years!

So, my dad being a perfectionist, decided to do it the hard way and worked everything out from scratch. As this needed to be done individually for each rib it took quite a while, even with the help of the nascent computer department. (I think this was where he learned PL/1, his only ever experience coding computers. It was still a "submit a job, wait a few days for the results" mind.) In the end, though, he came up with a wing design that took up far less material, and was thus lighter and more efficient, and saved the company much money! He was encouraged to write it all up as a thesis for a degree, but got it turned down as it was "too industry specific." It should still be sat on a bookshelf at mum's., I really should go borrow it sometime..

The safest place to save your files is somewhere nobody will ever look


Disc space

Ah, early days of the Internet, we'd find certain customers that had shared folders on their NT server suddenly running out of room. We quickly determined that a search for large files across the users' home folders would often provide us with a lot of large, very-not-work-related, movie files. Often in senior management folders, after all, they had both the time to spend and nice private offices to enjoy them.. But nobody ever complained when we fixed their space problems by deleting the files.. We'd find it fairly easy to sell them an upgrade later on, though.

Not a death spiral, I'm trapped in a closed loop of customer experience



Ah, yes. I found myself in the dreaded run around when I moved into a new flat, some 20 years ago now. The existing electricity supplier wanted some four hundred quid deposit off me before they would let me take over the account or they would disconnect the flat. My preferred supplier didn't need a deposit but could, apparently, only take over the supply from an existing account, not actually give me a new supply. After some backwards and forwards, it transpired they really only needed some meter reference numbers off the last bill, which of course I didn't have. So I asked the existing supplier to sign me up, but send me an immediate bill, which they queried, since there was only about a weeks usage on it, but they did, and I managed to get the supply transferred before I was cut off due not paying the deposit!



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