back to article One-armed bandit steals four hours of engineer's busy day

Welcome again to On-Call, our weekly look at readers' trials and tribulations when asked to go out and fix stuff for clients. This week, reader “SH” shared the story of his time working for an amusement machine operator as a service engineer. SH spent his days maintaining fruit machines*, pool tables, juke boxes and video …

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  1. Chris Miller

    Epson

    Is that the London suburb just outside Fujitsu?

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: Epson

      It's a couple of miles south from Kingston upon Memory.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Epson

        Near to Brotherford, I think.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Epson

          A bit closer to Hooton Pagnell

          1. Cameron Colley

            Re: Epson

            I thought it was off PARC avenue?

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Epson

      I filled my car up in Epson once. Never again! I had to sell my house to pay the bill.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Epson

        Should have paid in Lexmarks.

  2. Triggerfish

    Trivial

    I did once, have a two hour drive from Scotland to Just outside Newcastle to turn a router on and off again. (To be fair I could have told them to do it, but they gave me a nice car to drive to get there and those country roads through Northumberland were so very twisty)..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trivial

      I wasn't exactly on-call, but I had spent many months on-and-off trying to resolve an intermittent bug which just occasionally caused a customer system to miss a critical security-related message. We couldn't work out if there was a real problem, or just less-than-competent local support staff. Eventually the irate customer insisted that if he didn't see a development engineer by the end of the week he was returning the equipment (well, he didn't put it quite like that, but you get the idea). Fearful of losing future deals, my boss put me on a plane.

      To Australia.

      One of the nice things about booking economy class tickets half way around the world at 3 days notice is that you have to pay full fare, and so I got bumped to business class.

      A day's work on-site, with code I knew well, finally located a real bug, a typo. Unfortunately it was in code I'd written, so my boss was not well pleased when he read the trip report that went with the expenses claim...

      Ah, those were the days before the internet bubble burst. These days they'd just have written off the deal :(

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Trivial

        Well not exactly on call, but did get sent to survey sites in places Like the Shetlands, Hebrides etc in Winter, which meant a one and a half hour survey, few hours of CAD drawings, used to take quite a few days because of storms marooning you there. (If Ferry crew get off the boat looking pale, then as far as the architect I was with was concerned there was no way we were getting on). Luckily our employer was of the opinion that they were making so much money from the work we could drink during the days we were stranded on the company.

        1. Andy A

          Re: Trivial

          A company I used to work for got a contract for support of PCs in various radar installations round the country. My manager had an easy area to cover, but his friend in Scotland had it tough. The company had decided that Aberdeen was a good centre to deal with the whole of the Highlands and Islands.

          We looked at the ferry timetable and worked out that an engineer could get on one of the 3 ferries a week, spend several hours at sea, drive half an hour to the site, press the "on" switch, then see the ferry disappearing as he exited the building - assuming the weather allowed the boat to sail at all.

          There is no chance of hitting any targets when you have an average call duration of 3 days.

          1. Triggerfish

            Re: Trivial

            Your friend may have visited some of the places I did. I can tell you trying to draw a site sketch while standing at the highest point in the Shetlands next to a radome in December the wind chill was brutal. Upside is if you are stuck in those places the locals are so bored of spending the winter looking at each other the pubs are really welcoming.

            Also do not go drinking with oil rig workers who have just got off the platform and fancy a drink.

            1. Rich 11 Silver badge

              Re: Trivial

              Also do not go drinking with oil rig workers who have just got off the platform and fancy a drink.

              That sounds like the sort of anecdote which ends with "...and to this day I still have no idea where they got the llama from."

              1. Triggerfish

                Re: Trivial

                There could have been I don't actually remember much.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Trivial

            drive half an hour to the site, press the "on" switch, then see the ferry disappearing as he exited the building

            So, the island's big enough that it's a half-hour drive from the ferry to the site, but his vision was good enough that he could see the ferry from there?

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: Trivial

              It seems you might not be familiar with mountainous terrain and twisty roads. Half an hour doesn't get you very far if you first have to drive halfway around the island and then 3 times around it to get to the top for instance.

            2. x 7 Silver badge

              Re: Trivial

              "So, the island's big enough that it's a half-hour drive from the ferry to the site, but his vision was good enough that he could see the ferry from there?"

              island roads tend to follow the coastline rather than straight lines, so he could have been looking across a bay..........or alternatively looking down from a mountain top (where else are you going to put a radar?)

        2. enormous c word

          Re: Trivial

          In a previous job working in support, we FAXed some instructions to a users *Systems Manager* to shutdown some Databases and OS and then reboot their SCO Unix box (so you get an idea of the vintage of this story, right). The instructions went on for a couple of pages, but on the header page, I wrote a note asking them to return the FAX to me as it was the only copy we had - which they dutifully did...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Faxed instructions

            That's weird, because I don't think I have ever used, or seen a Fax machine that destroys the original document.....

      2. Stuart 22

        South Africa Calling

        "To Australia"

        Ahem I got a call one morning from the MD of our South African company. "Our major customer (a bank) has an unresolved problem. Our engineers can't fix it. The customer is going to throw the machine out if it isn't resolved by the end of the week". It was already Wednesday.

        I have certain skills - like finding the guy who wrote the suspect software. "Fancy a trip to South Africa to fix it" I asked nervously. This was in the days of white rule and the anti-apartheid calls to boycott. I was asking him to do something I'm not sure I would do myself though I was already an unwilling accessory. Fine he said (it was winter here and summer there as he advised me).

        "Would tomorrow be OK?"

        "I'll just check". 5 mins later, "Yep, I'm up for it".

        What a relief. Called travel department and he was booked on the next day's noon flight out of Heathrow. Rang back the MD to assure him the only man who could sort the problem would be there the next day. He could tell the bank to relax. Sat back in relief that I had triumphed again and everybody knew it.

        The guy rang back a couple of hours later. I forgot to say I haven't got a passport (nerds in the 70s didn't all have 'em). S**t - I could see my P45 being enveloped.

        What to do? It was already late afternoon. Then I remembered that as the company did a lot of secret work with obscure government departments we had a secret office that dealt with sensitive matters in a very quiet way. I rang them, I explained the situation to a reassuring ex(?)-military voice.

        "So it is a matter of national interest that we maintain this strategic economic link at all costs?"

        "Yes", I spluttered

        "Leave it with me I'll ring back in an hour"

        He did. "Ring the chappy and tell him to drop into Petty France (then the passport office HQ) on the way to the airport. Its all sorted.

        "Don't you need his details, photos ..?"

        "No, we have that already".

        And yes that guy made the flight, fixed the problem and that bank continued to bust sanctions with the aid of our equipment. My job was not only saved but enhanced.

        I made an inadequate donation to the AAM in penance. It is something I am not proud of. But I do remember it as an example of what government can do when it wants too. And how scary those people in the shadows really are.

        1. x 7 Silver badge

          Re: South Africa Calling

          ""Don't you need his details, photos ..?"

          ""No, we have that already"."

          thats the scary bit.........

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        To Australia.

        Not Australia but Italy. I had a contract to write some reporting S/W for my client's industrial control system running in their client's factory in Italy. The development was in my client's office in England but I had to go out to install it.

        Once I got there I couldn't get through a run of the reports without random crashes. On reboot fsck kept leaving files in lost+found containing random fragments of memory contents. The end-user client didn't want me to leave until it was seen to run and it was still crashing when I should have left - and I was running out of Lira. I'd also had a call from an agent to see a new client on the following Monday with a view to starting contract on Tuesday. Finally the suite ran & so did I. I was told the consequent hardware call identified a bad memory stick; maybe without the extra S/W running the machine never used that area of memory.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: To Australia.

          I got as far as "Once I got there I couldn't get through a run of the reports without random crashes." and thought hardware - probably overheating CPU, memory, or hard disk.

          I guess software engineers look for bugs, and sometimes it requires a step back to look at the environment it's running on.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: To Australia.

            "and thought hardware"

            So did I. I had no doubts it was a hardware problem from the start. But the clients (allegedly) hadn't experienced any problems before. And you don't argue with Italians so close to Naples...

    2. Daniel Hall
      Trollface

      Re: Trivial

      Why do I STILL see and hear "techies" saying they've turned something on then off again.

      I really hope you turned that router back on before you left!

      Just to remind everyone, you turn it OFF and THEN you turn it ON......got it?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Trivial

        'Why do I STILL see and hear "techies" saying they've turned something on then off again'?

        That's easy. You turn it on to make sure it's working & then turn it off again because users will only mess things up if you leave it switched on.

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: Trivial

          That's easy. You turn it on to make sure it's working & then turn it off again because users will only mess things up if you leave it switched on.

          Actually it was off in the first place I think (lightning storm seems to have upset it from memory).

          But yeah should have added after twenty minutes switch it back on again, that way they get a brief spark of internet before it goes down again and then comes back for good. So ensuring your leet skills for your truimphant drive back to Scotland after bringing a factory back online. :)

        2. gnarlymarley

          Re: Trivial

          The reason they had to drive out is you cannot remotely access a router in the off state. Once the router is turned on, then it can be remotely turned back off. But then if you are already there, you might as well power off before you leave.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        you turn it OFF and THEN you turn it ON......got it?

        I have a mains radio in one of my barns, If I've not been in for several weeks I can turn it on and get four or five steps away before it fades as the well made capacitor drains into the device. And I have to go and turn the mains on...

        I feel this is the reason why most digital devices are full of capacitors made of wishful thinking - so you can turn them off and expect them to reset.

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

          Re: you turn it OFF and THEN you turn it ON......got it?

          Sounds like my amp, though it earths it's self so instead the caps drain with satisfying thump from the speakers (vintage pioneer upgraded with new speaker terminals, resoldered main boards and single strand wiring) still better than couple of grand modern amps.

        2. Johan Bastiaansen

          Re: you turn it OFF and THEN you turn it ON......got it?

          Sometimes you just turn it on.

          This is a few decades ago, and it didn't happen to me, but to a colleague. I know, I know, it always happens to a colleague, but this time I saw him drive away, return the next day and I saw the visitors report.

          So the customer is in a frenzy because they want the printer to print, and it doesn't print. Is the green light on? We are assured the green light is on. Are any other lights blinking? Is there enough paper. No, yes, yes & yes.

          So we send someone over. The green light is not on, the printer is not on, it is turned off. Also, the plug is disconnected from the socket. Customer explains that perhaps he saw the reflection of the sunlight. Except there's no window in the room. Anyway, 2 days work and one embarrassed customer.

          A couple of months ago I visited a customer and had to print a report there. He insisted that the report should be printed on that thare printer. Since it was the default printer that everybody used in the office all the time.

          Printer was turned off, the electrical cord was missing, there was not a single sheet of paper in it. It was covered in dust, it was clear it hadn't been touched in at least year.

          Took me 1 hour to get it working again, changed to report to charge the extra hour. Customer pretended to be surprised. I pulled procedure on the prick with enthusiasm.

          1. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: you turn it OFF and THEN you turn it ON......got it?

            Sometimes you just turn it on.

            So the customer is in a frenzy because they want the printer to print, and it doesn't print. Is the green light on? We are assured the green light is on. Are any other lights blinking? Is there enough paper. No, yes, yes & yes.

            Pretty much this exact scenario happened to me when working for an ILR station. News stories would come over a satellite link as a serial stream straight (well, almost) to a dot-matrix printer that used fanfold and was about as robust as a typical tank.

            Unfortunately, being somewhat junior, there was no call-out fee, no reports to file, no comeback on the numpty who couldn't see the power light was "off", let alone that the thing wasn't "on line". As it was a Saturday, I was bleeped out of bed at some unearthly hour (5am?), spent 10 minutes on the phone explaining which lights to look out for and which buttons to press "yes, that's ok, yes, I've pressed that" and then 30 minutes driving into town, one minute to walk from the back door up to the newsroom and a total of, oh, I dunno, five seconds (about as long as it took to walk across the room) to spot the missing lights and turn the blasted thing back on whereupon page after page of overnight news and sport started spewing all over the newsroom floor.

            Certainly beat that time when the flat roof was being replaced and the company doing it had just finished scraping the old stuff off when it started raining, so they decided to go home.

            M.

      3. banalyzer

        Re: Trivial

        Some of us techies work in negative logic so use negative logic. You just have to remember to invert the meaning before your fingers/mouth communicate it

  3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Fruit Machines

    Vercotti: [...] Anyway I decided to open a high class night club for the gentry at Biggleswade with International cuisine and cooking and top line acts, and not a cheap clip joint for picking up tarts -- that was right out, I deny that completely --, and one evening in walks Dinsdale with a couple of big lads, one of whom was carrying a tactical nuclear missile. They said I had bought one of their fruit machines and would I pay for it.

    2nd Interviewer: How much did they want?

    Vercotti: They wanted three quarters of a million pounds.

    2nd Interviewer: Why didn't you call the police?

    Vercotti: Well I had noticed that the lad with the thermonuclear device was the chief constable for the area. So a week later they called again and told me the cheque had bounced and said... I had to see... Doug.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. WonkoTheSane
        FAIL

        Re: Fruit Machines

        Turn in your nerd card. He was quoting this:- http://www.montypython.net/scripts/piranha.php

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Jason 24

          Re: Fruit Machines

          "Turn in your nerd card."

          I think he nailed it with the last sentence tbh...

        3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Fruit Machines

          I think he realised that Wonko , hence the "something completely different" at the end

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: Fruit Machines

            "I think he realised that Wonko , hence the "something completely different" at the end"

            Nice piece of poetry there, Jeltz.

            1. x 7 Silver badge

              Re: Fruit Machines

              Fruit machines? South London?

              Forget fantasy Dinsdale........think of the reality descendants of the Richardson gang. Who took over their rackets?

        4. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Re: Fruit Machines

          You seem very well informed. Can you tell me how radiative a backpack sized Russian tamper is?

          And would an actress still look bedable after being caught in its fallout?

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: Fruit Machines - Can you tell me how radiative a backpack sized Russian tamper is?

            Well, given the note above that it would need to be an ordinary fission bomb only:

            W54 warhead

            The warhead is indeed rucksack portable, weighs 51lb. I do like the "Handle with care" label. I do dislike the sheer raging insanity of the whole nuclear weapons program that made it possible to make over 2000 of these things.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We frequently get support calls raised with us by the end user rather than the companies 'technical' team. They're always a bit miffed when you ask them what they've done to fix it themselves. Explaining they're going to get a bill if we come and unplug then plug back in a phone generally makes them try themselves. Never get a thanks from them.

    One customer refused point blank to pay for our time once, having taken a server down themselves which was working to try to fix another issue. The person who had done it was on holiday and when they got back freely admitted it was them.. Nice bill for the time taken arguing with them as well.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      An HVAC engineer friend of mine once had an emergency callout where the air-con pump had stopped. Knowing the device involved, he hit it with a lump hammer and it started working again.

      On presenting the customer with a bill for £100 emergency callout, he was told "we're not paying you £100 for hitting it with a hammer"

      He said "OK, let me re-do the bill" and presented them with a bill for "Resolving issue with pump by hitting it with a hammer: f.o.c.; Knowing exactly where and how hard to hit pump to get it working again without causing damage: £100"

      They paid.

      1. magickmark
        Trollface

        An HVAC engineer friend of mine once had an emergency callout...

        Strange, that's a joke I've been telling for 30 odd years whenever clients would question an invoice!!!

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        hit pump to get it working again

        Back in the sixties an aunt of mine had an old car - Morris 8 I think. When it stopped she knew she had to get out & hit a specific piece of mechanism to get it started but she didn't know why.

        |Does anyone remember the SU fuel pump?

        1. rhydian

          Re: hit pump to get it working again

          @Doctor Syntax

          SU electric fuel pumps had a set of mechanical contact breaker points (like an old distributor) which liked to stick open or closed which stopped the pump running. Quick bash of the top of the pump and you're away.

          (for those who are really nerdy, look at the first item on the 2nd page of this: https://www.holden.co.uk/cataloguePDFs/cat10/Fuel_Air.pdf )

          1. J P
            Coat

            Re: hit pump to get it working again

            I know it's not quite what they mean, but I do like the way half the SU pumps are described as "pointless" in the Holden catalogue...

          2. Gene Cash Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: hit pump to get it working again

            > (for those who are really nerdy, look at the first item on the 2nd page of this:

            > https://www.holden.co.uk/cataloguePDFs/cat10/Fuel_Air.pdf )

            Ahahaha! and the bold banner at top says "SU FUEL POMPS"

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