The problem is usually not the tool that is used, but the tool that uses it.
122 posts • joined 20 Dec 2011
Working on a system at Scotland Yard, users were not supposed to be access anything other than the application, which loaded automatically at boot etc.
One persistant user discovered that if you hit F1 to load the windows help file, there was a "Run" option in the File menu, which meant that you could run any application or utility if you knew the name of the executable. This would give you access to such things as Progman.exe, Fileman.exe, command line etc.
I was once asked to look at some software a police department had brought in to log staff absences, which had stopped saving new records. The people who wrote it said that it would take them weeks to fix, at a cost of ~£5k.
It was written in MSAccess, which I knew very well and made myself seem a genius by cofidently predicting that the main table would contain 32,767 records, which turned out to be spot on.
Changing the ID column definition from short integer to long integer took me all of 5 seconds and the system miraculously started working again. I asked if I could have a bonus of 50% of what the supplier had quoted, but they just laughed!
Oh sure, we'll just make a tiny little change in every source file without letting anyone know. What could go wrong?
I maintained a system on Netware that processed applications for government assistance, which eventually lead to Giro cheques being printed and posted to the applicants. These were on tractor-feed stock and were printed on an impact printer to prevent the cheques being altered by scraping off laser toner, which does not penetrate the paper.
After building up a backlog of cases, the management decided to have a blitz and instituted lots of overtime and brought in temporary staff. They then hooked up a box of paper and ran the print job. Unfortunately, the size of the job was larger than the disk space allocated to the print queues. The cheques started printing, but after a while the system crashed and restarted. This started the the print job from the start, not from where it left off, and led to hundreds of duplicates being printed. The temporary staff in the mail room were not aware of this and just separated the cheques, plonking them in window envelopes, and put them in the postal system.
By the time it was noticed, they were too late to recall them. I got a call in Liverpool and had to get a hire car and drive down to Birmingham with my foot hard on the pedal - I even got pulled by the boys in blue on the motorway, but was luckily let off with a warning after being breathalysed.
It cost them thousands of pounds in the end as people cashed in their windfalls.
I worked for a large government department and our team were the first to develop PC based solutions, the department's vast majority of work being done on ICL mainframes. We bought our own development server (Novel Netware), wired up our own network, and got ourselves a UPS to protect the server. We used to test the UPS every 3 months, doing a controlled shutdown, and everything was hunky-dory.
About 18 months later we moved to a new building and our server was moved into a new server room and plugged into the new network. We got it up and running very quickly and things were going well. Until, that is, we decided to run our regular UPS test. We switched off the mains supply, then watched as the software on the server detected the power out and shutdown everything gracefully. At this point screams came from another team that their system had gone down.
When putting their server into the server room, that had spotted a spare outlet on our UPS and decided that it would be a good idea to hook into it, but they had not made us aware of this. Doh!
A boss of mine (we were working for a big government department) asked the guy from the customer who was our liaison what the system should do if a low level user tried to access the admin functionality. "It should tell them to bugger off" came the reply. The boss then wrote an assembler program that slowly wiped across the screen, displaying "BUGGER OFF" in large red letters on a white screen, while my contribution was a bit of code that played the Monty Python theme as it was writing the message. We were both very proud of this, until the system was being demonstrated to the bigwigs from our and their departments!
Resistance is futile: Some Cisco security appliances are ticking time bombs of fail thanks to faulty resistors
Re: Chemical fun
Many, many years ago, when doing my Chemistry A level, the teacher decided to punish us for some infraction and told us to wash and dry a large pile of glassware - test tubes, conical flasks etc. H told us to dry it by swilling a few drops of acetone around the inside, then blowing it dry with a bellows with rubber tube attached.
I decided to speed things up by swilling with acetone, throwing any excess down the sink, then flashing off any remaining by holding the open end over a bunsen for a second or two.
After doing this for considerable number of items, I forgot to pour out the excess and held it over the burner. When the thing burst into flames I dropped it in shock, into the sink that contained all of the previous washings. This ignited, and caused the vapours in the drain to go bank, leading to waterspouts from all of the other sinks in the lab!
Re: a melting mystery
When at university, studying for my finals, we experienced a heat wave, so lots of us went out on to the lawns outside to enjoy the warmth and get som fresh air. To prevent my notes blowing away, I took an apple shaped glass paperweight with me (which I still have) and placed it on top of my folders.
After a few minutes I smelt burning and realised that the glass apple made a lovely lens, with a focal length of about 4 inches. There was a smoking black hole in the cover of my folder, which was covered in black PVC.
I once had to try to sort out a user's keyboard (that user being me) after a soft drink had been spilt on it. Not having a dishwasher available, I took it in to the gents' toilet and ran it under the tap. After shaking out as much water as I could, I decided to speed up the drying process by sticking it under the hot air hand dryer. Unfortunately, the thermostat on the dryer was buggered and the air it blew out was remeniscent of a pyroclastic flow from a volcano! The surround on the keyboard softened like putty, jamming most of the keys when it rehardened after I removed it from the airflow. Doh!
Many years ago I was working on a project for the department that installed and maintained comms equipment for the emergency services, from the Police handheld radios to full hilltop transmitter sites with 100ft aerial arrays etc.
At the time the stock control at their warehouse and central stores was all paper based and we were sourcing and installing a computerised system that ran on a PRIME minicomputer. We told them that they would need a computer room building and they said that they would do this themselves to save money, as they were used to doing things like this when setting up comms rooms in Police and Fire stations.
Sure enought, They boxed off a corner of the office with partition walls, put in the power supply, wired in the supplied UPS etc. What they did not do was check what was running through the cavity in the dropped ceiling.
A month or two later we got an emergency call saying that everything had gone down - what had happened was that the pipework from the toilets on the floor above had become clogged and a build up of pressure had caused a joint in the pipework to pop - right above the computer room. The sh*t literally hit the fans!
Beware the Friday afternoon 'Could you just..?' from the muppet who wants to come between you and your beer
My father in law was having problems with his laptop and asked me to look at it. It turned out that something had been spilled over the keyboard, though he denied all knowledge of any such spill. I replaced the keyboard with a spare sourced from ebay, so it took about 10 days in total to get it back up and running reliably. At this point he decided he needed to have a spare machine available to him, as he constantly buys sh*te from ebay and Amazon, and does all of his grocery shopping online. He handed four old laptops to me and asked me to get them working - a couple were over 10 years old. Two of them had XP installed and one had Vista! I managed to get a Win7 machine running, but told him that doing up the other three was not worth my effort of my sanity. He was not happy with me!
Re: Printer drivers: still cruddy after all these years
Dual boot systems!
I had to work on a system in the UJ prison service, which was used to collate officers' overtime payments and send them to a data centre in Liverpool for inclusion in the payroll run.
The system was written in a $GL/Database called Dataflex, running on CCP/M, but the OS would not work with the require comms programme and modems and the process worked as follows:
1. Enter overtime payments into the database.
2. Create export file (text format) from the database.
3. Insert "Magic" floppy disk into the PC and start the transfer routine.
The transfer routine ran a batch file rebooted the machine and the "magic" floppy was a bootable DOS disk. The autoexec.bat started the comms program, which fired up the modem, dialled Liverpool and transferred the file.
The user then had to remove the floppy and reboot to be able to use the database again.
I later simplified the whole system by converting the database to the DOS version and dropping CCP/M completely and using the brand spanking new email system to send the data, rather than using dial-up.
I once worked on a system for Scotland Yard that allowed a team of data entry staff to transcribe criminal records from paper and microfiche into a database for uploading into the Police National Computer. Included was a routine which would take monetary amounts (usually fines) in pre-decimal format and convert to a decimal equivalent. This worked by taking the each unit (Guineas, pounds, shillings and pence), converting each to pennies, adding them all up and dividing by 240. Luckily I was old enough to have been a teenager on D Day (decimalisation day, not the invasion of Normandy) and could remember how to do it.
A couple of years later I had a call from somebody working for another company - they had been hired by Scotland Yard to write a similar system for different records and had nobody on staff who had even heard of a Guinea, let alone knew that each was worth 252 pence!
Back in the 80's we used to be able to get taxis around London when visiting our head office if we carried a box of floppies with us, as it was received knowledge that carrying them on the Undergound would cause data corruption. Amazingly, we always found a reason to carry a box of disks with us!
The BBC program "Micro Live" did an investigation of this, sending a reporter riding around the circle line for hours, and proved that it was nonsense - pretty soon afterwards the accounts team sent out a memo saying that from then forward, we had to use the tube with the great unwashed.
Re: Cheques still relevant... at leastt for someone
I had to update my driving licence recently and had to send in a new photo. Reading the instructions I thought I had to pay a £17 processing fee and had to find my cheque book which I had not used in about 5 years. I sent everything off and got my new licence back a week or so later. The following day I received a cheque for £17 from them. Rather than send my cheque back, they cashed it and sent me one of theirs for the same amount. In the space of 10 days, I had to write one, then pay one in to the bank. I think I was stuck in a time warp!
Re: Dont have your machine room at the top of a building
I worked in a government department in Bootle, just north of Liverpool. When the building was being put up (you can see it coming down here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3i2baydpCM) it was involved in the longest strike in British history, and the shell was open to the elements for about 5 years.
After the strike ended, they started fitting out the building, putting in windows etc, but found that hundreds of local feral cats had moved in in the interim. Somebody decided it would be impossible to catch all of them, so they decided to seal up the building and pump it full of poison gas.
It proved impossible to find all of the corpses , so they just left them to decompose. We used to come in every day to find our desks and computers covered in dust and gritty stuff - the management tried to insist that it was just dust, but we all knew it was mummified cats!
I became the support contact for an old Prison Service system running on an old Concurrent CP/M machine when someone looked through a pile of old CVs and spotted that I'd worked on CP/M systems in the distant past. I was told that the system, which collected Officers' overtime details, must work flawlessly each month, or they'd go on work to rule and there would be riots in prisons all around the country!
I set up a similar system at I site I was responsible for and discovered that somebody, presumably very kinky, was making lots of visits to www.rubbermaid.com.
I sent round a company wide email, reminding everyone that internet usage was monitored, and visiting dodgy sites would lead to disciplinary action, up to and including the sack.
I later visited the website myself, for research purposes, only to discover that it was a legitimate site that sells things such as rubber mats, waste bins and all sorts of cleaning products! The lad working in the admin office who had been researching dogging, however, did not convince me that the sites he had been visiting had a legitimate business purpose.
On a monthly basis I have to produce a huge report for one of our clients, which takes about 30 elapsed hours to compile, process and report the previous month's figures. This process was created by somebody who has since left the company, so it's not my fault!
They asked us for a new report last year, and my boss told me that I could use the first report as a basis for the new report. This I did, but when they checked the results, I was told that the figures were nonsense. I then went back to my boss and told him that as the new figures were crap, the originals must be too. I was told in no uncertain terms to keep quite about it - They pay us a fee for it, and If they didn't complain, we wouldn't fix it!
I have also said that I don't think anyone actually reads the original report - I once proposed replacing the contents with a message saying "If you can see this, please give me a call" to see what the response was. Again this was rejected.
I worked for a large government department - let's call it the Bome Boffice, and we wrote a system to be used at ports and airports for one of the Immigration departments.
After it was installed at one port, they asked us where they entered their correction factor. "What's that?" we asked. The reply came that it was a fudge they applied to all of their figures so they conformed to the averages across the country. "It's because we're a small port, and only a few lorries ship out from here" was their justification. We later found out that each office had a different fudge factor, for different reasons, just to keep the official figures in line!
I think it was Rudyard Kipling who said (to paraphrase) that the Indian Government was the only one in the world that analysed their figures and stats in more ways and to greater depth than the UK government, but that when it gets right down to it, the data is entered in pokey offices in the back of beyond, by a lonely clerk who writes in what the hell he likes, so long as it doesn't make his bosses look bad.
I was at a customer site in central London installing some thin client PC's and the head bod there asked me to make sure that her local printer was connected. Looking at it, it was connected to her old PC by a parallel cable, but the thin client did not have a parallel port. The printer did, however, have a USB interface, but it required a cable with a USB-B connector, which I did not have with me. I was 100 yards away from Tottenham Court Road, so I knew I should be able to pop out and get one, so that's what I did. The first shop I found one in wanted £15 for a 1m cable - I had bought 2 x 1m of the same type of cable in my local Tesco the week before for £2, so I queried the price. After a bit of haggling, he eventually sold it to me for £10. Luckily the customer was paying.
We wrote a system for a Police force (it was DOS based, and many years ago). My boss asked to contact at the force what the system should do if someone tried to access a function they were not authorised to use? "It should tell them to bugger off!" came the reply, so sure enough, if you tried something you didn't have rights to, the screen slowly dissolved, to the Mont Python theme, and a large "BUGGER OFF" message appeared.
The bigwigs were not happy when the system was demonstrated to them.
A boss of mine asked the client department's representative what the system should do if a user tried to do something that they were not authorised to do. "it should tell them to bugger off" came the reply.
A month or two later, while being the system was being demonstrated to the head of the department, somebody tried to carry out an unauthorised transaction. The screen (DOS based text screen) slowly filled to display "BUGGER OFF" in large block graphics on a coloured background, while playing Sousa's "Liberty Bell" (Monty Python theme) through the PC speaker using an assembler routine. For some reason this did not go down well!
I used to work for a company that issued gift vouchers - both 3rd party such as M&S, as well as our own proprietary voucher which were treated as if they were cash, and we actually printed by the country's leading banknote producer. The came in various denominations (£1, £5, £10 and £20) and each was individually serialised - just like banknotes. They also had the usual high security features such as intaglio printing, watermarks, holograms etc.
We only kept those due to be issued on each day on the premises, with our main stock held in a secure vault by a leading security company, who would deliver the vouchers needed on a daily basis in a security van.
We kept track of which vouchers had been issued to each of our clients, down to the individual serial number, and knew exactly how many unissued vouchers were in the vaults, and what was on order from the printer.
We also knew which vouchers had been redeemed as the retailers sent them back to us and we then paid them for the redeemed vouchers.
At one point we started getting vouchers sent to us for redemption that according to our systems had never been issued, and should still be in the vault. Investigations (including by the police) showed that one of the "vetted" workers at the security company had helped himself to more than a few grand's worth of vouchers from the bottom of the stockpile, assuming that we would not find out about it for some time. He then sold them on to his mates for about 50p in the pound.
We had to reimburse the retailers for the vouchers that they had accepted in good faith, but ended up getting it back from the security company's insurers.
I worked for a large government IT department who at the time did mainly mainframe systems - payrolls etc, using ICL kit. I was picked to be part of a new team that would be the first to put in systems based on IBM PC and compatibles, and we also started using Novell Netware servers. The tech support section refused to have anything to do with anything that weighed less than a ton, so we were left to specify our own kit and look after it ourselves.
As part of our setup we got a UPS system which we plugged the server into, and did full test about every 3 months, pulling the plug to the UPS and having it shut down the server gracefully. This worked fine.
After about 2 years of this we were moved to a new building, and we had a computer room in one corner and we were told to put our server in there. By this time the tech support team had finally started to support PC based systems for other teams, but we still looked after our own development kit. A couple of weeks after the move, we did our regular UPS test and our server shut down gracefully. A couple of seconds later there were screams from the other teams as they lost all of their network shares and print queues. It turns out that the tech support team had noticed several spare outlets on the UPS and had the bright idea of plugging the other servers in to it, without them having the software installed or being connected by serial port to the box, so while our server closed down gracefully, theirs all crashed and burned! I suppose we were luck that there was sufficient battery capacity available to allow ours to shut down in time.
My brother also served on the Ark Royal at that time and has told me many stories, most way too horrific/disgusting to tell here!
He did tell me of his experience being chased down a suburban Florida street by an angry, gun-toting husband of a woman who had taken the local radio station's exhortation to show the visiting Royal Navy sailors how good the local hospitality wa while they were on shore leave.
DeepNude's makers tried to deep-six their pervy AI app. Web creeps have other ideas: Cracked copies shared online as code decompiled
Re: airport security
I once had to go to a Category A prison in Cambridgeshire - think IRA, Plane Hijackers, bombers etc to install updates to a system in the admin centre that tracked inmates' earnings. To get in I had to go through security screening that at the time was considerably tighter than most airports - a gun had been smuggled in a few years earlier that was used n an IRA jailbreak.
My briefcase was fed through an x-ray machine and I was given the once over with a hand held metal detector, then given a pat down. Luckily I had remembered to leave my swiss army knife in the car, and as it was a software installation, I didn't have my toolkit with me.
I finally was allowed through into the office and opened my briefcase to get the floppies I needed. I then noticed that I had my little stationery folder with me - it contained pens, ruler, pencil sharpener, stapler etc. Amongst the other items was a Stanly type knife and a pair of scissors - both had been totally missed by the screws at security.
A few weeks after putting a system in for some police officers working in a department of the Home Office I got a phone call off the ranking officer asking me to supply him with some more paper for the printer. When I told him that we didn't do that and he should order it from wherever he got the rest of his stationery. This did not please him one little bit. He insisted that as we provided the hardware, we should also provide the consumable, I told him that we provided a toner cartridge and ream of paper to get them started, but that's as far as it went.
After arguing for ten minutes, he rang off promising to take it up with higher management, as "I've never been treated like this before!". Surprisingly we heard nothing else.
Hi! It looks like you're working on a marketing strategy for a product nowhere near release! Would you like help?
I joined a large outsourcing company, let's call them Crapita, working on a government system that they were providing, having previously worked for that government department.
I was in a meeting one day with other Crapita staff and was asked how long it would take to extract data for a report that the client needed. I considered the question, then gave them and estimate based on my somewhat limited knowledge of the system, having padded it a bit to give me a bit of leeway. After the meeting my boss bollocked me, saying that I should never give "the business" information like that! "Hang on", I said, "aren't they Crapita staff?". "Yes, but they are 'the business' side - the operational bods, and we are the 'IT' side - the technical bods, and we don't tell them anything!"
I can understand keeping the client in the dark, and not making promises, but our own staff?
I was there for only 12 weeks when I got a job offer elsewhere and snapped it up.
Re: For what it's worth
In chemistry labs it used to be common practice to dry glassware (flasks, test tubes etc) by swilling some acetone around and then using an air blower to evaporate the residue. I had a lot of glassware to clean one day and decided to try to speed thing up - pour in a slug of acetone, swill round, pour out in to the sink, than flash off the remainder by igniting it using a Bunsen burner.
This was working very well until I left a bit too much in one flask and instead of flashing off, it continued to burn. As it got hot, I yelped and dropped it in to the sink, where it ignited all of the other acetone that had been poured in there. The fumes in the drains also exploded, shooting geysers from all of the other sinks in the lab!
I worked in the \iT section of a large government department and was asked to look at an MSAccess application that had been provide by an external supplier for recording sick absences in Police departments. It had suddenly stopped accepting new data and the supplier had said it would take weeks and cost several grand to fix it as nobody had taken out a support contract with them.
I asked the person who passed it to me if the record number of the last record was 32,767? How did you guess that he asked? It turns out that the record number column was defined as an integer and had reached its limit. I redefined the column as a long integer, which fixed the problem in about 10 seconds at the cost of bugger all.
Dead LAN's hand: IT staff 'locked out' of data center's core switch after the only bloke who could log into it dies
From MySpace to MyFreeDiskSpace: 12 years of music – 50m songs – blackholed amid mystery server move
A company I worked for had two sites - one in Scotland and one in England. When they started up, they installed Microsoft Small Business Server in the Scotland office and joined the two sites with ISDN lines, with the Scottish end being the domain controller. A couple of months later (all of this before I got the job of IT manager) they saw the ISDN bills and the accountant hit the roof! To cut down the bill they disconnected the routers from the ISDN, meaning that the English end was cut off from the domain. This meant that nobody could add new users, disable the accounts of people who had left, change passwords etc, and the server logs were filling up with error messages, seriously impinging on disk space.
After I got there we got ADSL lines in and set up a proper VPN between the sites, giving all users internet access at reasonable speeds and making system maintenance so much easier, especially as I was based in the English office.
The ISDN lines were just used for credit card transactions after that, until we could bin the contract.
A boss of mine once asked a customer what the system should do if someone tried to access part of the system they did not have rights to use. "It should tell them to bugger off" came the reply. My boss took him literally and then was the subject of a complaint when the system went live and was demonstrated to the directors!
As a programming exercise I once wrote a windows program that would monitor my Outlook inbox and pop up a message when a new message arrived. To make it fancy, I incorporated the Microsoft Agent, which would pop up an animated figure (Magician, robot, dog etc) and read out the message When testing it I used headphones and got it working really well.
One weekend I took my headphones home for some reason. On the Monday I came back in to find my inbox full of emails with the filthiest of subject lines - hundreds of them. Some of my team were doing overtime over the weekend and one of them sent me an email and was surprised when my machine read the subject out to him - I had not muted the speakers!
They had great fun that weekend, as you can imagine.
My dad used to work in a Ford car plant. Some of the workers had a system where they would take alloy wheels, fitted with performance tyres, up on to the roof of the factory. They would then roll them off the 50 foot drop and they would hit the ground and bounce over the perimeter fence onto a nearby railway line. Accomplices would be waiting to collect them.