* Posts by Sequin

182 publicly visible posts • joined 20 Dec 2011

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Senior engineer reported to management for failing to fix a stapler

Sequin

A senior police officer called me one day and asked me to provide some more paper for the printer attached to a system we had written and installed in his department. I explained that we provided a pack of A4 and a toner cartridge to start them off, but after that they had to order their own consumables. He complained that he hadn't budgeted for supplies and surely it was our responsibility as we had provided the printer! My reply was along the lines of "Foxtrot Oscar!"

No, working in IT does not mean you can fix anything with a soldering iron

Sequin

At a previous job I was asked to investigate why the lights in the ladies' toilets blew the circuit breaker when switched on - they had seen me using a soldering iron and a multimeter during my lunch break, and were too cheap to call in an electrician.

I reset the breaker and flicked the switch - sure enough, the breaker popped and the lights went out, but I heard a crack coming from the suspended ceiling. I reset the breaker then got a ladder, removed a tile and asked somebody to hit the switch while I had my head inside the ceiling space. I saw a flash coming from where the cable passed over some of the metal ceiling hangers - investigation showed that the insulation on the cable had been worn away and it was arcing on to the hanger, which presumably was earthed.

A trip to a local hardware store got me a junction box - I cut out the damaged section of cable, joined the ends in the junction box, which I screwed to a wooden batten, well away from the metalwork and all was hunky-dory.

Tetchy trainee turned the lights down low to teach turgid lecturer a lesson

Sequin

I once got a critical leve support call from our data centre telling me that a system had gone wrong and it needed fixing immediately or heads would be rolling. The symprtoms wre that all of the system menus were blank apart from the headings. I jumped in a taxi with all of my support tools and headed up there to discover that they had had somebody in cleaning the keyboards and monitors (an annual event) and the person doing it had managed to turn down the brightness control on the CRT monitor. The menu headings were in high intensity, with the menu options in lower intensity. It had been turned down enough to hide the low intensity text, but you could still see the high intensity text.

I twiddled the knob, picked up my gear and took a taxi back.

In a time before calculators, going the extra mile at work sometimes didn't add up

Sequin

I once worked in a major police force on a system that had a team of operators transcribing criminal records from microfiche into a database that coud then upload the data to the Police National Computer (PNC). This involved convictions, including fines - some of which were in Guineas, ponds, shilings and pence - down to farthing level. The system captured this data and converted it to decima format in the process. This was quite easy - multiply each unit by the number of pennies in it (252 for a guinea, 240 for a pound, 12 for a shilling etc), add them all together, then divide by 240 and round to two decimal places.

A year or two later, when I had moved on elsewhere, I got a phone call begging me to help by explaining the process to the company who had taken over support - there was nobody in the company that had ever seen "old" money, never mind calculated using it!

We've got a photocopier and it can copy anything

Sequin

Re: Don't know if it's just that my coffee hasn't kicked in yet...

I once did some work for the counteirfeit currency unit of the UK National Criminal Intelligence Service and had a trip around their museum and rogues' galllery. Some of the counterfeits wer top notch (see the North Korean superdollar) while some were laughable, but had worked. an example was a £10 note which had been made by gluing together two single sided photocopies and colouring it brown with wax crayon.

It had been accepted at a farmers' market (i believe drink was involved)

The perfect crime – undone by the perfect email backups

Sequin

Re: "Delete" = "Hide"

Back in the day many offices used Amstrad PCW8256, 8512 and 9512 machines as they came with word processing and a printer, and you could buy spreadsheet, database and accounting packages, as it was a CP/M machine. If using the Word processing software and you chose to delete a file, it just flipped a bit on the header and moved it to another user partition. In CP/M you had 16 user partitions on a disk - the equivalent of folders on DOS machines. I file in one user partitin couldn't be seen from the others. Locoscript let you use the first 8, and if you deleted a file it got moved into the partition plus 8, so if it was stored in user 1, the "deleted" file would be moved to user 9 and so on. I think backup copies were also stored there. Finding and restoring them was trivial.

I loved those machines!

Beware the fury of a database developer torn from tables and SQL

Sequin

I was messing about during my lunch breaks with the Microsoft Agent software and wrote a program that would monitor my email inbox and play a sound, followed by an agent (wizard, robot dog etc) character popping up, who would then read out the subject line of the email.

One Friday, I forgot to switch it off and some colleagues, who were working over the weekend, were surprised to hear it announcing my emails when they arrived.

I came in on Monday to find my inbox full of messages with the most disgusting subject lines you have ever seen! They had lots of fun that weekend.

Sequin

My boss asked a client what the syetm should do if somebody tried to access an area they were not supposed to. "it should tell them to bugger off!" was the reply.

When demonstrated, the system (running on MSDOS before the days of GUIs) scrolled up a message in ASCII block characters which said "BUGGER OFF!" in red (my involvement was to have it play the Monty Python theme through the PC speaker while scrolling - all written in Assembler)

For some reason the client's boss was not happy!

We can bend the laws of physics for your super-yacht, but we can't break them

Sequin

Re: ""Don't you know who I am?"

"Do you know who I am?"

"No"

"In that case, f%$K off!"

Not to dis your diskette, but there are some unexpected sector holes

Sequin

We were able to get permission to take taxis around London when visiting our HQ as "the motors on the tube will corrupt our important floppies". This lasted a good while until the BBC Microlive program showed that it was BS

You can buy a company. You can buy a product. Common sense? Trickier

Sequin

Re: GAS!

A few years ago a bloke in the UK chopped off a gas line in a house and plugged it with a carrot. A few days later the carrot had dried out and shrivelled, letting the gas out and causing an explosion that took out several houses and at least one person.

An early crack at network management with an unfortunate logfile

Sequin

Microsoft's Critical Update Notification Tool anyone?

Buying a USB adapter: Pennies. Knowing where to stick it: Priceless

Sequin

Re: Television repair

My TV took to switching itself off after 20 minutes or so recently. I opened it up, took the part number for the power supply board and bought one from ebay for £15. waited two days for it to arrive, swapped it out in 5 minutes and the set is working fine again. Most moder LCD TVs have three boards - power, display and bbacklight - each is easily swapped and readily available for most brands - no need forschematics or a soldering iron any more.

Sequin

A government department I worked for had bought a database system, written in Access, that had worked fine for 18 months, but had stopped accepting new records. The company they bought it off wanted a couple of grand to investigate and fix the problem. I asked the person who ran the system if by any chance it had stopped functioning after they had added 32767 records. He was gobsmacked to see that I was spot on! I changed the definintion of the primary key column from integer to large integer and bingo - working again for £0

If you fire someone, don't let them hang around a month to finish code

Sequin

Re: Comments?

The product in question had been originally written as an in-house tool by a large corporation's IT department.>

I've worked on many systems that have been written by in-house tools!

Help, my IT team has no admin access to their own systems

Sequin

An ICL enhgineer once doubled thhe capacity of the disk drive in our mainframe by removing a plastic peg that physically prevented the heads from moving to the outer part of the disk. This cost us a lot of money!

Sequin

We stored important stuff in a fire safe. We had a fire one night and the safe did it's job. Unfortunately the key was left in a desk drawer and melted in the heat!

The IBM System/360 Model 40 told you to WHAT now?

Sequin

My boss asked a client we were building a system for what it should do if somebody tried to access a function that they shouldn't. "Tell them to bugger off!" was his response.

The system was only running for a day or two before the first complaint came in. Mind you, we did get it to play the Monty Python theme whille it slowly painted "BUGGER OFF!" in large letters over the whole screen! (This was in pre-gui days)

Prototype app outperforms and outlasts outsourced production version

Sequin

I've written some extremely good and popular applications using MSAccess - as I always say, it's not the tool you use that causes the probem - it's the tool that uses it!

We have redundancy, we have batteries, what could possibly go wrong?

Sequin

I worked at a site that was the maintenance centre for emergency services comms equipment. We were installing a stock control system running on a Prime mini and they insisted that they could do all of the cabling themselves, being electrical and electronics engineers. They partitioned off a corner of the main office and installed the power supplies and the UPS system that we had specified, which was sufficient to run for about 30 minutes to allow a controlled shutdown.

One day contractors working on the road outside put a digger through the power cables. Everything on site went down like the Titanic - including everything in the server room.

It turns out that they had installed circuit breakers ("for safety") that sensed the incoming supply - but they installed them between the UPS and the server, meaning that when the supply went down there was no connection between the UPS and the server!

When forgetting to set a password for root is the least of your woes

Sequin

In the 90's I was working on a system fro a Police research department based in a Home Office building in London - we were based at the IT centre in Liverpool. At a meeting with the moron of a Chief Inspector in charge of the department (obviously deployed there to get him out of the way) he basically accused us all of being IRA sympathisers - "You've even got an Irish name!" I was told. After biting my tongue and assuring him that we were all sevcurity cleared, he went on about how sensitive the info was, and how access to it must be strictly controlled!

A week or two later I visited the office to see how the bobbies using the system were getting along and noticed a sticky label on a function key that said "Login". Using my supreme detective skills I asked the bobby what that was for - he said "we can't be arsed typing in user names and passwords, so we found out how to program it into the function key. One press and we're in!". Oh how I laughed!

Software guy smashes through the Somebody Else's Problem field to save the day

Sequin

My boss noticed me doing a bit of soldering on an electronics kit during my lunch break. "You obviously know something about electricity could you have a look to see why the lights in the ladies' toilets are always blowing their circuit breaker?". I quick check in the false ceiling showed a broken cable shorting out on the metal fixings for the ceiling. Snip snip with some wire cutters and a £2 junction box from a local shop I had the problem sorted.

How to destroy expensive test kit: What does that button do?

Sequin

Many years ago I was buiding a database system (Dataflex on MS-DOS) for a government department and went to a specification meeting with my boss. He asked what the system should do if a user tried to do a particular sequence of ations - "It shoud tell them to bugger off!" came the reply from the client.

When we built the systemand you tried to do teh said verbotten thing, the screen cleared and slowly filled with block art, it vivid colours, which said BUGGER OFF while playing the Monty Python theme tune through the PC speaker! I did all of tis in 8086 assembly language and was very proud of my efforts.

The client was less impressed and we had to change it.

Fatal Attraction: Lovely collection, really, but it does not belong anywhere near magnetic storage media

Sequin

The story went around in the 80's that trravelling on the tube i London would corrupt any magnetic media you were carrying - apparently the fields from the motors were rather strong. It was actually not tue, but we could use this excuse to travel by taxi, rather than tube, when working in the capital and get paid our expenses fr it.

Firewalls? Pfft – it's no match for my mighty spares-bin PC

Sequin

You mean the employer thhat was using kit so old that spares had to be sourced from eBay? The ones using a Windows95 pc with file sharing set up as the host of the main POS database? The ones who bought a job lot of redundant kit from a closed down care home for £250 to find that it was 10 times better than the kit they had?

It was a case of do anything to keep the business running and keep 50 people in work!

Sequin

I once worked as the IT manager at a tourist attraction, and was given a miniscule budget to keep the back office and point of sale systems working. After several staff losses, I also took on the reponsibility of keeeping the Audio visua systems running for the punters. I did this on the cheap, scrapping obsolete VHS machines and replacing them with 20 quid DVD players from ASDA.

I used several old PCs from home for vital tasks, and an old Epson dot matrix of mine was used to print everyone's payslips. One day I was called in to see the boss to be told that I was being made redundant and should pack up my things and leave the building, serving out my notice on gardening leave.

At this point I requested the return of all of my equipment, with the exception of a 22inch Dell CRT monitor that I personally gifted to a lovely colleague with very poor eyesight.

Panic ensued and I cared not a jot - most of the kit I dropped off at the tip on my way home.

You want us to make a change? We can do it, but it'll cost you...

Sequin

While working for a government deprtment I was asked about an application being used by police forces to record sick absences. The system had stopped accepting new records and the supplier had asked for several thousand pounds and several weeks to fix it. On learning that it was an Access database I asked if the system stopped working after 32767 records had been added. The guy asking me was gobsmacked that I could be so specific and correct! The autonumber primark key column had been defined as a short integer and had hit the max limit. Changing this to a long integer took 5 seconds and the system started working again.

RIP Sir Clive Sinclair: British home computer trailblazer dies aged 81

Sequin

I started with a ZX81 kit - my first real adventure in soldering! I got it working after a day or two and never looked back. I later upgraded it with a proper keyboard kit from Maplins - I still remember cutting out the paper letters to stick in the clear keycaps! A piece of window insulation foam between the case and rampac cured the wobbles.

Magna Carta mayhem: Protesters lay siege to Edinburgh Castle, citing obscure Latin text that has never applied in Scotland

Sequin

Re: Sumption is wrong

A friend of mine, who has since retired from the British Library, had to take a copy of Magna Carta to Australia for their bicentenary in 1988. They both travelled business class, and dear old Magna had her own seat.

Sequin

Re: Holy Progress

"Luckily they didn't dig too deep. Or straight down. The Rock being a volcanic plug and all. Which I guess also goes towards explaining the... strange character(s) of Glasgow on account of the high radon levels."

They pump the Radon 50 miles to Glasgow?

Ah, I see you found my PowerShell script called 'SiteReview' – that does not mean what you think it means

Sequin

Examining the proxy logs at a satellite office, I discovered that one of the staff seemed to be accessing a site called Rubbermaid.co.uk - each to his own!

Management suggested that I send round a generic warning, reminding people that browsing was logged and that disciplinary action might be taken if dodgy sites were accessed.

Ads a matter of research, I visited the Rubbermaid website, to find that they were suppliers of things such as rubber mats and waste bins!

Go to L: A man of the cloth faces keyboard conundrum

Sequin

I had to change the prompts in an application I wrote from "Press A Key To Continue" to "Press Any Key To Continue" because the main user, who was an electrical engineer, complained that he was not a typist and it was taking him too much time to find the "A" key each time.

Hmmmmm, how to cool that overheating CPU, if only there was a solution...

Sequin

We put a Prime mini into and office, and the business decided to partition off a corner of the room as "the computer room".

One day the outflow for the toilets on the floor above, which ran through the false ceiling in the main office, blew. Guess where the effluent went? The stuff literally hit the fan, which didn't cool very well after that!

The server is down, money is not being made, and you want me to fix what?

Sequin

Re: Tea

When I was younger I worked behind the bar at a local social club.

Every couple of days we got visits from the local bizzies, usually about 11pm, dropping in for a couple of free pints. I expect they did this at other places too, and would probably have failed a breathalyzer at the end of their shift.

One night a couple of them were there until about 2am, at which poit I said that I wanted to lock up and go home. Kindly they gave me a lift home in their panda car. An hour or so later there was a banging at my door. I looked out the windo to see a cop at the door. Assuming there had been a break-in at the club I threw on some clothes and ran down. It turns out that one of the cuntstables had left his radio in the club and would get a bollocking from the seargent at the end of his shift if he didn't have it!

Congestion or a Christmas cock-up? A Register reader throws himself under the bus

Sequin

I was IT manager at a tourist attraction in the north of England and I was tasked with keeping the POS POS system going (the first POS does not stand for point of sale)

It was written as a Foxbase system and when I arrived the database was stored on a Windows 95 PC whith file sharing enabled - supporting about 25 POS terminals running on DOS 3.2. After migrating the database to a proper server, I mostly kept the thing running apart from a few odd foibles where I ahd worked out problems and could cure them by tweaking of the back end data using MSAccess as a data entry tool - the management were very cheap!

One day I was looking through the logs for the credit card processing system (Barclays PDQ IIRC) and noticed something very strange. One customer had received a refund of about £2.5K to their card. When charging them for entrance, taking the money on their card, one of the front desk staff had apparently manqaged to drop something on the keypad, entering a negative amount. There was no front end validation to prevent this from happening.

We had to contact our bank, who then had to contact the customer's bank and ask them to contact the lady, asking if we could have our money back. She kindly agreed after a week or two, and we ended up giving her a year's free entry to placate her (and she didn't get charged for the visit when the cock-up occurred).

The software house got a bollocking and rolled out a fix ASAP.

The future is now, old man: Let the young guns show how to properly cock things up

Sequin

Re: Backup always

One company I worked for kept the backup tapes in a fireproof safe, which survived a fire one night. Unfortunately, the key didn't - it was in a desk drawer and melted in the heat!

Protip: If Joe Public reports that your kit is broken, maybe check that it is actually broken

Sequin

Re: Civil service paying for excuses

The Home Office had a department that was responsible for the installation and maintenance of radio equipment for the emergency services. A new big-wig came up with a "wonderful" idea for coping with the occasions when a force's main transmitters had to be taken offline for maintenance. He specified a complete comms system in a lorry container that could be driven to the site, dropped off and plugged in to keep the service running while the maintenance work was done. The only problem was that he ordered dozens of the units when there had never been an occasion when more that two or three transmitters were offline at any one time!

Most of them were stashed in a field near their HQ just outside Cheltenham and it was all hushed up.

I believe that they ended up selling them at a cut price to many third-world countries as prepackaged systems for their Police an armed forces.

Don't cross the team tasked with policing the surfing habits of California's teens

Sequin

Our team put in a system for tracking Immigration statistics at various ports and airports around the country. We had to build in "adjustment factors" agreed by the unions and management so that some locations didn't look bad in relation to other ones, with all sorts oof wooly explanations to justify fiddling the figures.

George Clooney of IT: Dribbling disaster and damp disk warnings scare the life out of innocent user

Sequin

In our office we had an ICL DRS-30 concurrent CP/M system with about 8 terminals. As a joke I wrote an assembler program to run on boot , which checked the system date. Only if it was 1st April would it do anything - it would pop up a message saying "Are you sure you wish to format the system drive?" - no matter what key you pressed, it would the display a progress bar, saying "Deleting...." and then, when it reached 100%, it played the Monty Python theme tune.

I thought it was hilarious - others didn't!

You want a reboot? I'll give you a reboot! Happy now?

Sequin

Having to support servers around the world (UK, US, Germany, Australia, Pakistan) I have learnt after several bottom-clenching mistakes, I now change the colour schemes on each of my remote desktops. I set a desktop wallpaper which includes the country's flag, with the server name in large text underneath, with a background colour of red for live systems, yellow for test systems, and green for dev systems. This simple scheme has saved my job on several occasions!

Quality control, Soviet style: Here's another fine message you've gotten me into

Sequin

Re: Russians, alcohol, making toasts

Lots of Scandinavians (especially the Finns) take weekend trips to Russia or the Baltic states for benders, as the cost of alcohol in their own countries outweigh the cost of the weekend away. I have seen dozens of drunk Finns sleeping off sessions in hotel lobbies in both Leningrad and Tallinn

Yes, there's nothing quite like braving the M4 into London on the eve of a bank holiday just to eject a non-bootable floppy

Sequin

I had to jump into a taxi and head for our data centre after a call from the operators saying that a system had gone wonky and all of the menus had disappered - if it wasn't fixed soon there would be riots in prisons as the officers would walk out, not having been paid their overtime.

I grabbed all of my support and OS Disks, stuffed them into a bag and called a taxi to take me the 5 miles to the datacentre, spent 30 minutes trying to get somebody to let me in to the secure area and finally got to see the system. I switched up the brightness on the monitor, then walked out again.

What could be worse than killing a golden goose? Killing someone else's golden goose

Sequin

Re: One place I workded...

I was there when we were market tested and shipped out to a private company (Sema Group). Our political masters had spent years telling us how much better the private sector was than us. A couple of months working with them showed us that this was a complete and utter load of bollocks!

Sequin

Re: One place I workded...

Don't get me started about the Home Office! Loved working there, but there were some absolute numpties!

Don't be a fool, cover your tool: How IBM's mighty XT keyboard was felled by toxic atmosphere of the '80s

Sequin

My neighbour once asked me to have a look at her laptop as it kept shutting down. Just touching the thing revealed that it was extremely hot, and also covered in a sticky residue which reeked of tobacco.

Turning it over, the mesh covering the ventilation intakes was no longer a mesh - the tar had built up so much that about 90% of the holes were closed up completely! Ten minutes with a stiff paintbrush, a vacuuum cleaner and some baby wipes returned it to working (and clean) condition.

Sequin

Re: Smoking

My reply to pub smokers using that argument was "I have the right to drink beer - would you be ok if I pissed on your shoes?"

A word to the Wyse: Smoking cigars in the office is very bad for you... and your monitor

Sequin

A neighbour asked me to have a look at her laptop as it kept cutting out - the vents were clogged with cigarette residues and it worked fine again when I brushed them out.

My father-in-law asked me to look at his laptop as the keyboard was playing up - I discovered a layer of sticky, sugary grot inside it and had to replace it - he still insists he hnever spilt anything on it!

I got an emergency callout to the data centre of the large government department I worked for, saying that the on-screen menus on an old, but vital system had disappeared. Yes - the brightness had been switched down.

The wastepaper basket is on the other side of the office – that must be why they put all these slots in the computer

Sequin

Re: oh crumbs!

I had a similar problem with my neighbour's laptop - ten minutes with a vacuum cleaner and a stiff paintbrush cured the problem (for a while)

Takes from the taxpayer, gives to the old – by squishing a bug in Thatcherite benefits system

Sequin

Our company wrote a system for a large housing association that produced gift cards for tennants who had kept up with their rents throughout the year. They sent us Excel spreadsheets with the tennant detains - name, address etc and the amount to be paid and we created prepaid gift cards loaded with the said amount and mailed them out to the recipients.

When I was doing some testing prior to the live production of the cards, I was scanning through a list of recipients and noticed people with names like "Mr John Smith - DECEASED" and "Mrs Mary Jones - DECEASED". They had no way on their system of marking tennants who had died, so just tagged the text to their surnames and later exported the data to us!

I pointed out to the clients that some people might be upset to receive letters addressed to their dead loved ones, plus the fact that dead people don't tend to use gift cards. There were some red faces, but I did receive thanks for saving them both embarrasment and money.

You can drive a car with your feet, you can operate a sewing machine with your feet. Same goes for computers obviously

Sequin

Re: Foot pedal

When the company I worked for were short staffed I was asked to help out with doing a hardware refresh at a solicitors' office in Dewsbury (I was employed as a developer).

I turned up and started exchanging machines, installing software etc and was then asked if I was going to install the foot pedals for the transcription software. After they explained what they were and what they were used for, I wint to plug them in only to find that they wre serial devices and had 9 pin RS-232 plugs at the end of the cable, but the new desktop machines were USB only.

I had to make a trip to the local Maplins to clear out their stock of USB-Serial converters. Luckily I had a company credit card with me.

After all of that, I got back to my car to find that I had a puncture and the wheel nuts were seized!

What a day.

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