back to article User worked with wrong app for two weeks, then complained to IT that data had gone missing

Welcome again to On-Call, the Friday feature in which we help Reg readers to recount times when they were asked to fix problems that should never have happened. This week, meet “Terrence” who told us about his time working as a sysadmin for local government. “My main area of work was the system used for revenues and benefits …

  1. macjules Silver badge

    By any chance ...

    Would this council be Lambeth? Was called to rescue a very impressive Drupal 7 clusterf*ck some years ago which used the Color [sic] module to do exactly that - change environment theme colours. This was a council that also failed to comprehend what SSL is, as all their forms were unprotected.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: By any chance ...

    that'll be COLOUR ;o)

  3. wolfetone Silver badge

    Re: By any chance ...

    "Was called to rescue a very impressive Drupal 7 clusterf*ck some years ago"

    I'm glad you followed "very impressive Drupal 7" with "clusterf*ck", as there is nothing impressive about Drupal.

  4. Symon Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Re: By any chance ...

    @AC

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sic

  5. Scroticus Canis Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Re: By any chance ... Whoosh!

    Simon you forgot the obligatory Whoosh in your response title :)

  6. TRT Silver badge

    Re: nothing impressive about Drupal

    Oh, I don't know. Some clusterf*cks can be incredibly impressive.

  7. Terry 6 Silver badge

    TBH

    Sorry, it doesn't sound to me like the user was wrong, nor a " cretin". Users, unless particularly tech aware, are not tuned in to the finer points of tech. The "cretin" is the person who allowed the test version to be "customised" to look like the live version.

    Think what happens when you log into windows safe mode. Absolutely no mistake. It tells you. A test version should have the words "test version" clearly imprinted round the border, or something of that sort. And if it was customisable, then there should have bloody well been a limited range of colours, maybe even striped or something. It's not rocket science. It's not even unique to IT. People do dummy runs of all sorts of processes, and they make it clear that this is a test run.

  8. Lee D Silver badge

    Re: TBH

    Nope.

    Colouration is fine.

    The cretin is the person who didn't splash TEST SYSTEM over every dialog box and window title to ensure that no matter what colour was chosen it couldn't be confused with the live system.

    I'd even put in a big scary warning when you load it up or close it down.

    The user isn't at fault, as such, but not rebooting your computer because "it takes a long time "means the IT team are rubbish or the user is paranoid (reboots on my systems are on the order of 20-30 seconds and I don't do anything particularly special, and only a handful are actually SSD).

    If you have colouration options, those also NEED TO BE TESTED don't forget.

    But there's no reason not to have big annoying warnings everywhere to discourage you from using the testing version for anything serious.

  9. goldcd

    I have some sympathy with your view

    But if the user has the wherewithal to start playing with the colour palette of the system, then I think maybe they are at least partially at fault..

    ..Still, at least it wasn't the other way around.

  10. Dave K Silver badge

    Re: TBH

    To be fair, we don't know if it did. It's quite possible the app came up with a huge warning about being a test version when launched, but as the user had changed the colours then been to lunch, and had never restarted the app for 2 weeks, this could have been missed.

    I agree that locking the colours of the test app would have been a good idea though.

  11. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    Re: TBH

    Actually locking the color scheme of LIVE version would be even more important - imagine the mayhem if a user decided that TEST version scheme is so nice, he wants it on LIVE one. Then few weeks down the line proceeds to use LIVE as if it was TEST, because it looks like one.

  12. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Re: TBH

    There's been a couple of cases of stage actors being seriously injured because a rubber prop knife has been substituted for a real knife.

    The product design solution would be for all rubber prop knives to have a clear textured coating on the handle so that they can be identified by touch.

  13. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    Re: TBH

    "(reboots on my systems are on the order of 20-30 seconds and I don't do anything particularly special, and only a handful are actually SSD)"

    I call bullshit / rose coloured glasses / wishful thinking / best case scenario

  14. richardcox13

    Re: TBH

    > The cretin is the person who didn't splash TEST SYSTEM over every dialog box and window title to ensure that no matter what colour was chosen it couldn't be confused with the live system.

    The bigger the difference between test and production the greater the chance of bugs being missed in that difference. Any layout changes in web apps definitely fall into that category.

  15. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    Re: rubber prop knives

    I don't buy that for half a second. Rubber prop knives and real ones don't feel the same at all, they don't even wheight the same at all. It's a bit like saying kids get routinely injured by baseball bats in swimming pool because of confusion with foam noodles. Perhaps we should add a clear textured coating to foam noodles, so that they can be differentiated from baseball bats by touch?

  16. phuzz Silver badge

    Re: TBH

    "reboots on my systems are on the order of 20-30 seconds"

    Oooo, look who's got an actual budget! I'll bet all the machines you're responsible for are actually from this century, you posh git you.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: TBH

    " the order of 20-30 seconds"

    Probly got no AV or GPO or sccm client, or logon script or any of that other tedious corporate stuff that slows us down :P

  18. oiseau

    Re: TBH

    " ... the person who allowed the test version to be "customised" to look like the live version."

    Hmmm ...

    Not really a 'cretin'.

    It would seem that this fellow just had a temporary lack of (essential) foresight.

    Far too many times we tend to think of the end user as having the same type/sort/brand/flavour (if any at all) of common sense we have.

    And that is a big (BIG) mistake which you usually end up paying for.

    They don't, so you just have to play safe and make up for it in advance.

    An option for the end user to change something/anything in the test version?

    No. It should *not* have been there.

    I mean, you don't allow third parties to meddle with anything in your test system, you have to have full control of it. Otherwise, how do you know what's going on?

    Have a good week-end.

  19. larokus

    Re: rubber prop knives

    lolololololol @ omg made my morning

  20. Uffish

    Re: "substituted for"

    I think you owe me some compensation for the mental effort expended in imagining a realistic scenario where an actor could be seriously injured by the use of a rubber knife instead of a real knife.

    P.S. Where is the 'Elf and Safey' icon when you need it?

  21. kain preacher Silver badge

    Re: TBH

    I've worked in places that a reboot takes 3 minutes or longer. You have scripts and other corporate crap running before you get to some thing useful.

  22. Blotto

    Re: TBH

    @Terry 6

    you are correct, but most people's test system is just an identical implementation of the live system with dummy data.

    Most COTS systems don't provide the ability to customise the system as you describe and most IT shops won't have the ability to add that customisation either.

    The best thing they can do is ensure no test data gets on the live system and that they have documented processes that ensure separation.

    At the end of the day, real data was added to the test system, provided it was suitably scrubbed and stayed onsite (in country or just not on the net) then the data was contained.

    It would be upto the software vendor to provide a facility to brand the test system as a test system.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: TBH

    Worked for a firm that had agreed to give a software firm some real world testing for free. This was years ago when XP was still relatively fresh and 95 was being mothballed. We provided a computer and one of their people installed the new Windows version of the software. The previous version had been DOS and whilst it was competent at doing what it was supposed to it was still DOS. Therefore the Windows version was seen as a major step forward in that respect. Functionality like copy and paste would become available that were absent from the previous version. More colours, a better GUI, and the ability to use a mouse were also among the top of the hoped for features. People were encouraged to use the machine and say what they thought of the new system which was supposed to be fun. We made sure that no one had any illusions that this was a live machine which would do anything to any active systems in the business. The monitor (a big chunky CRT) was emblazoned with large notices in eye wateringly bright neon pink telling people that this was beta software and the machine was not connected.

    The fact that it was a Windows program not DOS should have been a bigger clue but you can't really take chances we thought. Anyway second person to sit down wants to know about backing up his work and follows the on screen help instructions to do so. He suddenly announces he's found a problem it will only back up to a floppy drive. Incredulous we all go over to have a look and find he's correct. It's weird because they don't appear to have expanded on the DOS version. This also only allowed back up to the A: (i.e. floppy) drive and in the windows version we were expecting more. There isn't a floppy drive on that machine as it's brand new and we didn't order new ones with floppy drives. One is then hastily retrofitted but it was clear in our opinion that all they had done was the minimum to port the thing over from DOS. They hadn't made many of the expected changes and we told them what we thought of their first attempt! When it went wrong twice once catastrophically during our testing we said "No thanks and left it at that".

    No one managed to confuse the system for the live one but we were alert to the possibility even with the wildly different GUI, the fact you could use a mouse, and the fact that the machine was in a corner away from everything else giving people clues.

  24. Andy Taylor

    Re: TBH

    One of my friends worked for a company that insisted his (Windows NT) machine be switched off each evening and powered back on again the following morning, I forget the reason why.

    His daily timesheet had 15 minutes at each end of the working day - 15 minutes for power up and login, another 15 minutes for logout and shutdown. This was not because of some minimum time accounting period, but because that's actually how long the process took.

  25. Mog_X

    Re: I have some sympathy with your view

    To be fair to the user, there are legitimate reasons for the colour schemes to be changed - red/green colour blindness and other visual impairments can make some screens difficult to see.

    But as other people have said, the absence of a 'Test Environment' label on the screen is the real problem.

  26. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Re: TBH

    The bigger the difference between test and production the greater the chance of bugs being missed in that difference. Any layout changes in web apps definitely fall into that category.

    You can't set aside a space on the dialog or web page and fill it with "TEST VERSION" or "LIVE VERSION" (or just spaces)?

  27. 's water music Silver badge

    Re: "substituted for"

    imagining a realistic scenario where an actor could be seriously injured by the use of a rubber knife instead of a real knife

    Act 1

    Scene 1

    A deserted street.

    Enter Alice and Bob, both carrying fearsome looking knives

    Alice: Have at you bob, yer bastard.

    Bob: Bring it on.

    Bob and Alice circle one another and then simultaneously lunge forward with their knives clashing the blades

    FX: spark shower and metallic clang Boing sound.

    They both fall, fatally wounded hilariously knocked out by their own rebounding blade.

    Curtain.

  28. verno
    Coffee/keyboard

    Re: TBH

    @phuzz I really, really wish I could upvote that moe than once!

  29. Symon Silver badge
    WTF?

    Re: rubber prop knives

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/dec/11/actor-slits-throat

    Also,

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Damage_a_Man_Can_Do

    "While filming this scene during October 2008, Smits accidentally stabbed stunt man Jeff Chase with a real knife rather than the scene's prop knife. The knife struck a small piece of plastic on Chase's chest and he was unharmed. "The Damage a Man Can Do" received generally positive reviews from critics."

  30. katrinab Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Re: "substituted for"

    Use this icon for elf'n'safety

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've worked in places that a reboot takes 3 minutes or longer.

    I don't reboot unless absolutely necessary because its going to be 15 - 20 minutes before I'm back in.

    That's the normal around here. Everyone has a policy they want to push out or another app that scans the HD and a separate login for encryption and on and on.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: TBH

    > There's been a couple of cases of stage actors being seriously injured because a rubber prop knife has been substituted for a real knife.

    Not just knives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Lee#Death

  33. lesession

    Re: TBH

    In murder mystery stories maybe (IIRC one of James Runcie's Sidney Chambers Grantchester stories revolves around that scenario), but [citation needed] for that happening in real life.

    And can I be the 94th person to point out that the original sentence suggests that the injury was caused by a rubber knife, which had been switched into the place of what was expected to be a real one?

  34. DJSpuddyLizard

    Re: TBH

    I agree that locking the colours of the test app would have been a good idea though.

    But then how do you test that users CAN change the colour scheme and it stays consistently changed??

    No, I agree that warning text "TEST MODE" or something would be better.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: TBH

    There's been a couple of cases of stage actors being seriously injured because a rubber prop knife has been substituted for a real knife.

    I certainly wouldn't act in a script that calls for me being stabbed and the usual policy is to use real knives.

    Did you mean "a rubber prop knife has been substituted with a real knife?"

  36. Kiwi Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Re: "substituted for"

    Use this icon for elf'n'safety

    Even the "pedantic grammar nazi" bit fits.

  37. Jamie Jones Silver badge
    Happy

    Re: "substituted for"

    Enter Alice and Bob, both carrying fearsome looking knives

    ..... and a secret message they need to share without Eve and her machete muscling in on the action.

  38. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Re: TBH

    I think in this thread we need to distinguish between testing a newly minted bit of programming and trying out a bought-in package. I've done both,over the years. In the first it's about saying what works or doesn't. In the second it's more about whether the package is suitable for us. You can have a modified "test" version if it's still in Beta or earlier,and worry about interface details when the actual working code and basic interface is sorted out. I can't thin of an example where a new version of software, using the same data, would be so radically different it would need live user testing. But the query is, are we looking at an early version to see if it works in real life,or a later version to test interface detail (font, colours, etc ).

  39. saabpilot

    Re: TBH

    So TRUE

    When will people learn: If anything can go wrong, IT WILL!

    The person that didn't allow for that possibility in the first place is the CRETIN, not the user. They are users for a reason, otherwise they would be developers.

  40. Swarthy Silver badge
    Boffin

    Re: "substituted for"

    Use this icon for elf'n'safety
    I prefer this one -->

    Or maybe the Big Brother...

  41. Glenturret Single Malt

    Re: TBH

    1. See reference to "sic" above.

    2. I think you will find that the damage was caused when a real knife was substituted for a prop knife.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ped-ANT-ic typo in title

    'User worked with wrong app for two weeks, them complained to IT that data had gone missing'

    Typo pendant spots massive ants in title!

    Yes, yes, yes, m and n keystrokes are next to each other..

  43. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Re: Ped-ANT-ic typo in title

    You picked that up, but missed the errant 'rit'

    from “an irritate manager...

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Ped-ANT-ic typo in title

    or 'irritated manager'

  45. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Re: Ped-ANT-ic typo in title

    "never shut down their system since it took to long to reboot"

  46. Symon Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Re: Ped-ANT-ic typo in title

    Is it Terrence or Terence?

  47. The Indomitable Gall

    Re: Ped-ANT-ic typo in title

    " Typo pendant spots massive ants in title! "

    Where can I get a typo pendant? My girlfriend's a massive geek and always complains that I never buy her any jewellery....

  48. IsJustabloke Silver badge
    Trollface

    Re: Ped-ANT-ic typo in title

    "Is it Terrence or Terence?"

    If it's the one I know it's actually spelt T.W.A.T

  49. Alistair Silver badge
    Coat

    Re: Ped-ANT-ic typo in title

    @Symon

    That would be Auntie Terrie.

    *cough*

  50. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Re: Ped-ANT-ic typo in title

    Typo isn't jewelry, but you could take her for a lovely vacation in Kentucky.

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