back to article The Police Chief's photo library mixed business, pleasure and flesh

Welcome to 2015's final edition of On-Call, our regular feature in which readers share tales of technological tedium, tantrums and terror, often in weird places at unsociable times. To wrap up the year we're going to rifle through the On-Call inbox to share stories that weren't quite long enough for their own story, but should …

Silver badge

Merry Christmas

To you Simon, and all at the Reg.

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Unhappy

Re: Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas. Why am I posting this from work? :-(

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Pint

Merry Christmas to all and sundry and to those in El Reg that gives us the a bit of light and cynicism.... Magic. I love it

Streaker

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Anonymous Coward

There was also the case of someone who printed a list of the disk's contents - then stapled it to the floppy.

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Facepalm

You should see what a nice, steaming hot coffee mug does to the actual disk inside a 3.5 inch floppy when the user is in the habit of using it as a coaster to protect their eye-wateringly expensive mahogany desk from the heat.......(!)

No, I didn't get the important spreadsheet data back..... although I was moved to enquire as to what it was that had led them to believe that diskettes were less vulnerable in this regard than legendarily robust hardwoods.

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Yes, stapling floppies was a relatively frequent event in the days of 5¼" beasties. Actually, if you stuck the staple near the corner, it could easily be removed without damaging the disk contents, but anywhere near the middle ...

I once asked someone at a suboffice to send a copy of a floppy disk and we got a nice photocopy in next day's post.

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WTF?

I once slid back the metal cover of someone's faulty 3½" disk and found a piece of sweetcorn inside.

Some things are best left unexplained...

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Paris Hilton

Maybe they tried to use their corn on a cob as a diskette reader?

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3 1/2" disk wouldn't read, wouldn't even show. Took a minute or two of puzzling, some of which was spent testing other diskettes to verify the drive, eventually to get around to flipping the diskette case over, to find the label stuck, neatly and squarely, to the backside.

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Meh

staplers...

I had something similar when I worked my POS admin job years ago. Yes, I was a POS administrator :) I visited a location that complained that a receipt printer quit working. They had neatened up the area by stapling the cable to the wall in about 15 places with the staples going through, not around the cable. Fortunately for them the staple gun was not wide enough to staple the power cable.

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Re: staplers...

5-1/4 floppies, backed up religiously, carefully stored in a binder after using a punch to make the requisite holes... we won't even mention the probably apocryphal tale of someone who thought that photocopying the discs was sufficient.

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Outer Depth

Hard to believe but I'll bet some of those puddings were actually delivered by horse early on in their careers.

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Anonymous Coward

Telephones

I have come across several users who used the office phone (rotary) as a floppy disk weight.

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Devil

I remember those extra large labels. They were meant to to wrap around one edge, but exactly the right size to completely cover one side of the disk, I'm sure many a noob made exactly that mistake. They were almost asking to be misused.

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Bronze badge

>3 1/2" disk wouldn't read, wouldn't even show. Took a minute or two of puzzling, some of which was spent testing other diskettes to verify the drive, eventually to get around to flipping the diskette case over, to find the label stuck, neatly and squarely, to the backside.

Who, rationally, would downvote the above? Methinks truly petty individuals with a hate-on. You know who you are, I suppose. How sad your existence!

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Ah yes, spaces and phone support.

Had this one firsthand from a bloke at a software house who was called by a customer who'd installed their product (we'll call it the "XYZ" system here) to find it didn't work:

"Who were you logged in as when you ran the installation?"

"Er, me."

"Ah, that'll be the problem. It is clearly stated in the installation guide that the installation process must be run as root. Can you get the root password?"

"Yes, of course. Hang on a tick."

[a couple of minutes pass]

"Right. Got it. Shall I run the installation again?"

"Before you do that, we should probably tidy up the remains of the invalid one, just to be on the safe side. Could you cd to slash bin for me?" (yes, this is some considerable time prior to the POSIX directory merry-go-round)

"Done that."

"Great. Now type rm -rf XYZ* and press enter."

"Done that."

"Okay. Now we'll....."

"....Wait, it hasn't come back yet."

"Is it back now?"

"No...."

[cold sweaty feeling]

"Could you read back what you typed on the command line please?"

"rm minus rf XYZ star"

"Can I have that with the spaces please?"

"rm space minus rf space XYZ space star."

"Ooooooookaaaaayyyyyyy. Do you have a recent backup of the server....?"

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Re: Ah yes, spaces and phone support.

What sort of idiot tech support lets a user type a line like that anyway?

I was in a teleconference a while back, sitting next to a few users, while we phoned tech support and others. I was only supposed to be there for tech stuff and they were on line to solve a problem with a database not being up-to-date (nothing techy at all, just them not entering data), so I was basically reading whatever was on their desk while the tech guy on the phone blathered out and pointed out the obvious to the users.

There was a bit of back and forth and one user was just typing what the tech guy said into their software at our end and clicking where they were told to. Until, at one point, to fix a problem, the tech guy on the other end just said:

"Okay, now go into Script Runner."

Our user responded "Okay"

"Now type 'DELETE * FROM..."

It was at this point that I realised Script Runner was, in fact, just a hidden direct admin-level SQL interface to our database via the program, and I rugby-tackled the user to the floor to perform some damage limitation because they could start to type.

After berating the tech guy for such a dangerous command, and allowing users to have an interface to such a dangerous command, and reading out such a dangerous command, and not even bothering to check there was a tech guy this end who had taken a backup before he started playing like that, and not even bothering to do this in a transaction or similar that we could roll-back, I typed the command for them and told the users to NEVER go into that menu again (removing the menu from the user's lists shortly afterwards).

I don't blame the user's. I had backups but for sure I wasn't going to take blame if that command had gone wrong. Nobody knew what SQL syntax was but me and the tech guy the other end, and I damn well was never told that "Script Runner" was just a direct SQL interface. If that had gone wrong, whether I was present or not, that's ENTIRELY the fault of the tech guy on the other end.

More importantly? It's been two years and they STILL haven't managed to get their "remote application support" working for us either, so they still can't perform those things themselves. I'm both glad, and disappointed by that. It means they can't tinker without our co-operation, but it does mean every tiny data change needs phone-based hand-holding rather than a click done for them.

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Mushroom

Its popular

because we've all had 'those' users and its nice to see that other tech people have had to deal with the nightmare customer from hell.

Like arriving at a new job years ago, looking at the program database containing 100s of hrs of machine tool programming and asking "when was the last backup done?"

"We've got these floppy discs from 5 years ago....."

Cue buying some new ones.....

Boris

.. on holiday and trying to forget the day of the lightning strike.. which resembled the icon

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Coat

Ah floppy disk stories

I used to write software for pharmacies, in the old days and this all ran along with the data on 5.25 inch floppies.

When asked to send in a copy of their disks we often got photocopies of the disks or a floppy disk stapled to a covering letter, obviously right through the disk itself, just to make sure! Other disks came in glued together with paint, glue and who knows what, also the backup disks that have never been used and so blank were sent in to be used for data recovery and disks stored next to their TVs or CRT screens.

USB drives are not as much fun.

Getting my coat cos its almost knocking off time

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ah floppy disk stories

There was also the possibly apocryphal story of backup floppies stored in a ring binder by two neatly punched holes.

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Re: Ah floppy disk stories

We had a girl who worked in the engineering department at a telecoms company, decided to check what was on her old floppy disk from University. Needless to say the anti-virus system lit up like a Christmas tree when it was put in the PC.

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WTF?

Re: Ah floppy disk stories

A colleague went to fix a customer's harddisk, back when they were physically large and storage-wise small. After getting the drive going again, he asked for the backup, and was presented with three 8" floppies.

Figuring that this was insufficient to hold even a small part of what had been on the disk, he asked if that was all or maybe just the latest incremental, and when was it made? Yes, that was all, and it was last week's one. That last bit sounded good, the first did not, because even back then harddisks tended to hold at least several hundred floppies' worth of data. So he inquired how they were actually making those backups?

"Like the manual says, @SYS$UPDATE:STABACKIT, and then we just follow the prompts"

They had made a floppy set for their VAX to boot off so that a backup of their system disk could be made without having all kinds of files open. And had done so faithfully every week for the past couple of years. Unfortunately they didn't do the actual backup bit.

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Re: floppy disks in ring binders

Probably true, this sort of thing did happen... the first big court case over illegal copies of software in Germany folded because the guy who was in charge of doing an inventory of seized evidence did just that: used a hole punch and filed a big, big stack of 5.25" floppies neatly into binders. They were listed in the inventory as "square objects made out of plastic, lenth of a side 13,335 cm". (By then, a lot of people thought all computer data was stored on tapes or punch cards. If they made the connection 'computer', 'data' and 'storage' at all...)

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Re: Ah floppy disk stories

Yes indeed. My favorite question is, what are the ten (10 but not base 2) ways to insert a floppy disk into a drive?

Most people can figure out 8, but have trouble with the last two. If you are as well, remember one of my favorite puns: nothing is ever foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

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Anonymous Coward

Pr0n

Many years ago a computer salesman in South Africa was the very personification of the Dad's Army spiv character.

He used to tell of the time he had a sideline in showing "blue" films. One evening someone switched the projector off in the middle of a show. He protested - to find he had been raided by the vice squad. He had hired a hall next door to the local police station - relying either on their legendary incompetence or vested interest***.

On his trips to Rhodesia he apparently had a talent for getting computer spares past the South African customs checks by saying they were just inexpensive electrical things. On his return one day the border police did an unusually thorough search of his car. He was concerned about the Playboy magazine stuffed down the back of his trousers.

He was something of an amateur photographer too. His collection was apparently stored in the roof space of his bungalow by being nailed to the rafters. He said that if he died the first thing his wife said she would do was make a bonfire of them.

*** Tom Sharpe's two novels - "Riotous Assembly" and "Indecent Exposure" are not an exaggeration of the police's reputation at that time - nor of the hypocrisy that existed at all levels of society.

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Re: Pr0n

Ah, Tom Sharpe's first two novels - "Riotous Assembly" and "Indecent Exposure" were the first ones of his I read. Had me in stitches. Re-read them recently and the scenes they conjure still had me laughing out loud :-) Not very PC but then apartheid South Africa wasn't very PC (tell the young 'un that and they won't believe you ;-) ).

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Re: Pr0n

Amazing how many stories I have from the same telecoms company...

Senior manager came in complaining his laptop was running Outlook slowly. Knowing that certain staff members had a habit of sending funny pictures and videos we immediately guessed (correctly) that he was storing a horde of attachments in his emails. What we weren't expecting was every single picture to be of a fleshy nature (including a rather tasteful tattoo of butterfly wings either side of you know what). A quick select and delete fixed his speed issues and it was decided that neither the machine operator who had been emailing the manager the pictures, nor the manager would be reported to the HR department on the grounds that they were being made redundant and only had a couple of months left at the company (redundancy payouts at that company were 4 to 5 figures)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pr0n

"Not very PC but then apartheid South Africa wasn't very PC [...]"

What surprised me was that those novels were on sale in the local equivalent of W H Smiths in a very conservative city in the 1970s. It's hard to believe the censors failed to understand the satire aimed at them and their society. The paperbacks' covers' artworks alone were inviting being torn off by customs - as happened to Amateur Photographer on a regular basis. However they did seem to miss the verbal and visual double entendres in the popular "Carry On" films.

A interesting problem for the film censors was "The Love Ban" (1973). Usually even any partial nudity was ruthlessly excised - even if that shredded the story line or plot. This film raised audible gasps when the audience saw their first full frontal of a woman. The reasoning was that the censors religiously decided that the film's apparently anti-Roman Catholic message took priority.

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Facepalm

Re: Pr0n

Tom Sharpe was deported from SA after about 10 years for sedition. You really are barking up the wrong tree by criticising him for being non PC!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pr0n

"You really are barking up the wrong tree by criticising him for being non PC!"

I don't think the comment was about Tom Sharpe being non-PC. It is more about how his books would be regarded by modern audiences. Even at the time people who had not experienced South Africa's apartheid regime regarded them as hilariously over the top.

In the later novel "Wilt" he did a similar satire on English police and further education academia that many recognised as being rather too close to the truth. Leslie Thomas covered some of the same ground on English suburban hypocrisy with his novel "Tropic of Ruislip".

A friend who was an academic at Cambridge said that "Porterhouse Blue" upset many by again being too recognisable as the way some organisations functioned.

It would be interesting to speculate on what the young Tom Sharpe would have written about the current situations in the UK. Too often it reminds me of living in South Africa in the 1970s when one automatically self-censored what you said on certain subjects and to whom you said it.

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Pint

Ug, photo libraries

On one support call, I've seen more than I wanted to see. Hubby liked chubby... wifey wasn't. Ya know, I almost forgot that one, Thanks El Reg - Merry X-mas Everyone!

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Starting in roughly 1984 ...

... doing support for college kids at Berkeley & Stanford, most of the support (other than the obvious "I'm totally clueless about computers, please help me!") was "I downloaded some porn from (FIDO, USENET, whathaveyou), and my computer broke! Help, please!"

Nothing has changed. Nor will it.

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Not NT 4.0

Merry Christmas and all that... also posting from work :(

Inquiring minds want to know what they were running that wasn't NT 4.0 that their 'techie' thought was more or less the same?

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Re: Not NT 4.0

Knowing some users, Warp.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not NT 4.0

System 7

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Facepalm

had a call to reset a locked out user account:

"I have forgotten my username"

Me: "ok, your username is X and the password will be the same, you will be prompted to change it at login"

5 Minutes later, another call: "I'm still locked out"

Another rested

"I am still locked out"

Eventually discovered user was typing in "the same" for the password

Merry Christmas all us on call support gnomes!

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Joke

Yes, well, that's why it's a smart thing to use "invalid" as your password - you get automatically reminded every time you forget it...

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Anonymous Coward

Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

Not on call as such, but I remember a visit to an MoD base who wanted to replace an aging PDP-11 system used as part of an armament stores system. The chap running the system proudly showed me the set of operating manuals that they followed to the letter, including the weekly backups. When I asked about these he opened a ceiling-height storage rack full of tapes, in the next room to the computer. OKaaay, I thought. He explained these tapes were written in some kind of ICL mainframe format so they could be read onto the system in a second nearby base if needed. How often did they test this process ? Oh they hadn't done that for a couple of years, since the other base got rid of their ICL mainframe.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

Was that the same stores that did a stock take in the 1970/80s - and discovered they had a large quantity of mule shoes?

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Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

> Was that the same stores that did a stock take in the 1970/80s - and discovered they had a large quantity of mule shoes?

Last used for the Chindits because when we lost Borneo the likely use of "Shoes, mules for the use of" lessened.

But at what price would they go away at?

Can anyone see the sense of getting rid of mule shoes when storage costs are nearly nill?

Whilst I can imagine the US military getting rid of punch cards without checking their data was no longer required, I somehow doubt the British Government would ever be so FBI in its commitment to information.

......Ah hang on... I Just remembered who is in charge of the Home Office. Please disregard everything I just said including everything related to what I was thinking about and someone punch me in the face too, please.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

Not apocryphal. Stores are not run by people who necessarily know what they are looking after. A certain waveguide, used by certain surface to air missile defences in the Falklands was chucked - reportedly because it was obviously not required as a spare - bit of squareish rectangularish squarish metal. Indistructible! A squaddy misfire created a real spares problem.

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Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

Would that also be the same (very large) stores site being sold off in the 80s. There was a warehouse which had not been opened for many years because everyone knew was empty. The buyers insisted on it being opened before they would take it over, so the doors were cut open.

Inside was just one item, an armoured vehicle.

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Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

I worked for a defence company which had not made a particular item for many years, and we had thought that it had been withdrawn from servicebut we suddenly recieved an order. The costs were going to enormous as the drawigs had to be entire production line had to be started up from scratch. That was until one guy mentioned he had seen a pile of them down an Army Surplus store. They were all bought up and put through a refurb programme and delivered at a fraction of the cost.

We later heard that a storeman had thrown them out because he knew they were obsolete, but the 'system' had not yet cought up so an order for replacements was placed. The stores ended up with the exact ones thrown out.

6 months later we saw them back in the Army Surplus store again.

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Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

They are called "Stores" for a reason - not "Issues".

Most such places have elaborate systems for those rare occasions when they are forced to issue something, but never have a procedure for throwing things away.

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Not once but twice

I worked for a very small charity and one of my jobs was the daily and weekly backup. Dailies got stored in a secure place on the premises, weekly had a second copy (floppy) that came home with me.

When I quit, I wrote out the back-up process, showed the people in the office the very clearly-labelled floppies (sets of five so we actually had Monday-Friday for five weeks before re-using them) and the weekly back-ups (again, used five sets, plus a Q1-Q4 set of disks), and stressed the importance of this job.

Several months later, they were burgled and I got a panicked call. All computers stolen, secure closet broken into, floppies gone or trashed, wot to do. I advised them to back up from the old-site weekly as soon as they had bought their new machines. Silence. "You have been backing up daily and weekly and quarterly, haven't you, given that you are a research charity and data is uber important?" Silence.

Absolutely nothing I can do except to give them the last clone-of-a-clone weekly I took because I just had this sense...

What was especially fun is that about seven months later they had a burglary once again (I suspect the same tealeaves) and the same stuff stolen again (although the equipment was much newer, of course). Floppies gone or trashed. Panicked call. Had they learned from the first debacle? No. Not one backup ever had been made.

The charity went to the wall about a year later, and I thought it was funders' money well-saved, because they were truly too stupid to live.

Ad on that cheerful note, happy Christmas to El Reg and my fellow commentards.

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Re: Not once but twice

Ah charities. I will never make the mistake to work for one again.

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Re: Not once but twice

Reminds me of a well know commercial outfit (I think they even still make regular appearances in El Reg stories) our very, very small screw driver shop one supported. As it was a smallish local office, corporate let them sub out support for them as they were too small to be part of their normal process. We dutifully installed the appropriate tape back up software for their Novell 3.12 network on the desk for the receptionist (she was one of the only two people who were almost always in the office). One of the things they did was sell high quality optics to a customer who was even larger than their company. One day they had a problem with their customer database. After fiddling with it for a bit, the manager for the receptionist hit on a brilliant idea. Since rebooting computers fixed so many problems they'd delete the database and let it start again from scratch to fix the problem. Upon discovering this didn't actually work we got a panicked call about the database. "No worries," reassured the Senior Pilot Fish. "I'll be right over and we'll restore it from your backup." He arrived on site and asked for the tapes, then put them in the machine and ... There was no data on the tape. So he tried the other set. Then he noticed the blinking light on the tape machine. "How long has this light been on?" he inquired. "Oh a couple of months now. Why? Is it important?" answered the receptionist (and yes, she was blonde).

Remember that network system? Yeah, it was a good thing too. Fortunately for Receptionist and Boss, SPF had turned on the Novell recover system and all the database files were still there. So he painfully rebuilt it over the next three hours. Still, at $450 it was a cheap fix. They'd wiped out at least 10 years of data and one of the cheaper items in their catalog priced out a $100K.

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Indexing

I was only a lowly admin assistant, but as I knew a little about computers I wad called in to deal with this.

One of the PAs was having trouble. She was PA to my manager's manager, so I got sent in quickly. She was a lovely lady, and had come up with a novel solution to DOSs 8 character file name limit. She numbered all the files, then created a document in WordPerfect to act as an index.. That file had, of course, corrupted and she, of course, had no backups..

Thankfully, after spending an afternoon mucking around with the disk, I was able to retrieve most of the document, but she still had to spend several days checking it was up to date..

When I had finished, I had the pleasure of reminding both her and her manager of the importance of good and up to date backups..

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Re: Indexing

The Wang word-processor had files named 3756j etc. (case-sensitive, of course). I was told "this is a system for secretaries, not for computniks!" ...

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