back to article Tech support chap given no training or briefing before jobs, which is why he was arrested

Welcome once more to On-Call, the column The Register squeezes in before the weekend so you can revel in a fellow reader’s tales of tech support terror. This week meet “Zac” who told us the story of how “When I started as a computer engineer for a now defunct manufacturer everything was learned on the job (in the 'field …

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Coat

Back in the day, engineers were real engineers. Computers were real computers. You had to make do with what you had in your pockets and copious amounts of wit. Youngsters of today don't know they have it so good with their manuals and most computers being standardised!

Back when I were a lad...

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Paris Hilton

"with their manuals"

That's the first place I always look. In the manual. Yes sirree...

To be serious, what we all have nowadays is the web, so if someone has appropriated the manual to fix a wonky table, you can still find a copy. It's disappointing how many people can't seem to get the most out of a search engine though. (But not in these forums though, right?)

https://tech.co/google-power-user-infographic-2015-01

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"Computers were real computers."

Look at me typing on an imaginary laptop. La de dah de dah.

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Youngsters of today don't know they have it so good with their manuals and most computers being standardised!

Don't you mean searching on Google and Stack Overflow?

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Joke

@wolfetone

You joke, but I would put money on that being Apple's business plan.

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"what we all have nowadays is the web"

Until you try to work out why you can't connect to the net.

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"Look at me typing on an imaginary laptop."

Or a virtual one?

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Trollface

"Until you try to work out why you can't connect to the net."

Oh, make no mistake - that's the number one use case of a smartphone...

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Sure we have the manual. It's right down there, just ignore the "Beware the Leopard" sign.

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@Symon

But it is not so easy to search the internet when the computer is broken.

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Or the basement, when the stairs are out.

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searching

Don't you mean http://www.justfuckinggoogleit.com/

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> Don't you mean searching on Google and Stack Overflow?

I have an idea for a VS extension. You just type into a search box what you're trying to do, then it searches SO and copy pastes the accepted answer of the best matching question straight into the code.

I mean if we're going to have a process, shouldn't we automate it?

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"Back in the day, engineers were real engineers. Computers were real computers."

... and small furry creatures form Alpha-Centauri were *real* small furry creatures from Alpha-Centauri.

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

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Back in my day

all you needed was screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife and you could fix almost anything.

I must say though that no amount of training can prepare you for meeting the a-hole shouting bosses that you meet. They are the ones that believe vendor engineers are barely human, particularly if they happen to be on the younger side in which case they try to intimidate you further.

Its difficult to prepare people for that, and I am sure we all have examples of the above.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Back in my day

Penknife? Luxury!

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Re: Back in my day

Training? Luxury!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Back in my day

all you needed was screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife and you could fix almost anything.

If something can't be fixed with a Swiss Army Knife, then it doesn't deserve to be referred to as a machine.

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Re: Back in my day

> all you needed was screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife

In the early years of the PC, the standard kit was a rubber eraser, a toothbrush and a bottle of methylated spirits. It was surprising what could be cured by removing the "daughterboard" cards, cleaning the contacts and replacing.

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Re: Back in my day

Training is too good for them... Or too dangerous.

I had one engineer turn up because my hard drive was making "funny" noises when the PC was turned off (the heads clanging against the platter as they "landed".

He promptly removed the drive and opened it up! He then removed the particla filter, claiming that was the culprit, clappering against the platters as they slowed down. He then screwed it all back together.

I pointed out, that you shouldn't take a drive apart outside of a clean room. He said no problem, they had dismantled hard drives on the training course and the trainer even had one with a clear perspect cover, so you could see it working! :-D

Of course, the drive started to serious numbers of bad sectors after that.

I tried explaining to my boss... Yes, but he had to open up the PC to get the drive out. No, he opened the drive. Yes, of course, he had to remove the drive. Not remove open, dismantled, exposed the platters to the air! SH1T!

A quick call to the maintenance company and he had the same conversation again, taking on my part this time... Followed by apologies and an express packet with a new HDD in it!

This was the same engineer that decided the best way to repair a bubble jet printer wasn't to replace the broken purge unit (for removing air from the pipe between the resevoir and the head), but to remove the tube from the head and suck on it to geet rid of the air... Then promptly spitting a mouthful of ink all over the personnel manager's desk and running to the toilet to clean his mouth out! The PM just looked at me and said, "he never, EVER, sets foot in this building again!"

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Re: Back in my day

Insulating tape, for when you can't find anywhere to thread the cable tie...

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Re: Back in my day

"Penknife? Luxury!"

But soldering iron? Or at least a box of matches. Or dried grass and a couple of flints. Essential.

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Holmes

Re: Back in my day

"screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife "

These days, plod will probably lock you up for carrying that!

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Paris Hilton

Re: Back in my day

Rope, cable ties and tape.

But that will get you tied up in all sorts of interesting places...

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Re: Back in my day

"you shouldn't take a drive apart outside of a clean room"

This reminds me an incident with expensive minicomputer disk platters.

The manager of the local 400-stong workforce of a company I worked for walked the floors smoking his trademark cigar. One day he was showing visitors proudly around the minicomputer room while waving said cigar around. He exhaled nice plume of cigar smoke and almost immediately in front of our eyes (ears) the platter of one computer started screeching. They were £3000 a pop in the money of those days IIRC.

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Re: Back in my day

Training? Luxury!

you dont know you were born....

we didn't have an office to store manuals and penknives in... we had a hole in the ground,,,

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Re: Back in my day

"If something can't be fixed with a Swiss Army Knife, then it doesn't deserve to be referred to as a machine."

The last hardware engineer I shared an office with was never without his Swiss Army Knife and used it for everything from hardware to opening stubborn cellophane food wrappings.

Yes, he had a full toolkit as well, but that Swiss Army Knife was always to hand.

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Re: Back in my day

My Swiss army knife, bought with my first week's wages as a trainee computer programmer, was laughed at for years by colleagues. I bought the Champion, the biggest one Victorinox made then, and people thought all the nifty blades like scissors and corkscrews were superfluous.

Of course, none of them were above my using said blades to fix a problem they were having.

One bloke asked to borrow it to open a can, and then proceeded to rubbish my knife. I took it from him and showed him - with equally loud verbal commentary - that the sharp part of the opener was at the front so if he walked the opener forward around the can instead of trying to hack backwards using the unground side, not only would the opener work perfectly he would see there were no jagged edges to rip open his hands when digging into the can's contents like there would be with the old jack-knife type opener.

One time in the mid 80s I was riding a NY subway train and people were complaining about the loose pole rattling in its socket. I whipped out the SAK and tightened the screw in a trice. "Can you do that?" asked one snotty bloke. "I just did" I replied with a smile.

These days I carry a Leatherman Wave, a bunch of flattened bits for the driver thingy it has, and a Leatherman Crunch (fantastically useful tool that belies the ludicrous set-up needed to deploy the "Mole Grips"; if you only have money for one Leatherman, this is the one I'd recommend). But I still carry the Old Lady around. Everyone laughs at my "utility belt" until we are in a server room with no toolkit and a piece of kit that needs swapping out. Then they get quiet very quickly.

Sometimes I have to deal with a clever young thing telling me it's not a real SAK because it doesn't have the gold sigil in the handle. That fell out years ago due to normal wear and tear, and I still have the etched brass fret somewhere. I show them how you really tell if it's a genuine SAK (the hallmark stamped into the base of the long blade) and move on.

I bought one for my Dad when I got mine. His still looked like it came out of the shop last time I saw it, in its original red shiny box.

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Re: Back in my day

I carried a SAK for a number of years, until I got a Leatherman Super Tool as a gift. The steel is so much better that the blades stay sharp for WAY longer. The SAK promptly went into a drawer. (Still have it, 15+ years later.) I also received a multitool pen (one of these: https://www.amazon.com/Multi-Tool-Multi-Function-Tool-Multifunction/dp/B001IYGAOM). I carry both at all times (except where prohibited, of course). The tiny blades of the pen are a fantastic complement to the larger tools in the Leatherman.

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Re: Back in my day

Leatherman is a far more versatile tool, IMHO. Though I don't doubt the utility of a Swiss Army Knife, my dad has had one for as long as I've known him and it never leaves his side.

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Re: Back in my day

You only have to forget ONCE when flying and you lose the lovely tool/penknife/etc forever. It had fallen through hole into a lesser used internal pocket in my carry on bag.

No they will not put it aside till you come back...

Legalised theft and security theatre.

Will they do anything to stop or catch someone stealing your laptop or tablet? No. Only interested in "threat". Why no ticket to redeem tray after scanner?

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Re: Multitool

Unavailable on UK Amazon (Sterling, where Irish Euro using people are sent).

EUR 64.57 + EUR 12.98 shipping in Germany on German Amazon. As with UK Amazon you can only see shipping cost to Ireland after starting checkout.

Shipping from USA is horrific, then Irish customs calculates the 23% VAT on top of price & shipping (and any duty if applicable), then €8 handling.

At least the UK & DE prices include the VAT. Shipping can be same from Germany, though it's much further.

I had a SAK once and found it tended to break my nails.

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Re: Back in my day

Back in my day

all you needed was screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife and you could fix almost anything.

You forgot the hammer. It strikes fear into any computer old or new. Also can be used to fix users.

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Re: Back in my day

Even masochists?

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Re: Back in my day

"Back in my day

all you needed was screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife and you could fix almost anything."

When I started work I was told you could fix any telephone fault with a number 2 and a pair of 81s. A number 2 was a screwdriver and 81s long nosed pliers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Back in my day

Years ago I had to fly to a customer on two hours notice and they had to spring for first class. The stewardess gave me a real steak knife for my dinner. See no need to try to sneak a knife onboard. Just fly first class.

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Windows

Re: Back in my day - Swiss Army Knife

Back in the day I was never without my SAK. Many noble deeds were wrought with it, including a US engineer using the saw blade to cut down the plastic front of a 5 1/4 drive to fit in a 3 1/2 inch space. That man was a real engineer. Hi, Jerry!

I carried it on planes, including to the USA, without any problems prior to 9/11. Now I can't even carry it around in the UK because it is the backpacker version with the locking blade (essential if you value your fingers) over three and a fuckwit inches long and that would make me a terrist.

Anyone else remember the days of the Boy Scout where a sheath knife was part of the uniform?

Tell that to the kids of today......

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Coat

Re: Back in my day. all you needed was screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife

True.

I still recall an old Greybeard talking about using a screwdriver as a stethoscope to listen to how well a disk drive was working.

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Re: Back in my day

after you'd erased the gold from the edge connectors

One place I worked, we had a gold plating bath for edge connectors and we plated our own special gold screwdrivers, pliers and side-cutters.

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Re: Back in my day

"my dad has had one for as long as I've known him"

..Its a wise man who knows his own father..

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Re: Back in my day

yeah, it's always the lowly branch manager, though. genuinely senior people usually realise it's best to encourage people you're relying on.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Back in my day

You tell kids today; they don't believe you.

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Pirate

Re: Back in my day

I've got a Leatherman Micra on my keyring, used daily, mainly for opening mailed packages. When travelling, I try to remember to put it in the hold baggage, but I've forgotten plenty of times and got away with carrying it on the plane. The blade is less than 6cm, so it's OK to take. (Same as the 'Leatherman Squirt' which has wire strippers!)

https://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/baggage-essentials/liquids-and-restrictions#

Buy it in that America though.

http://www.leatherman.co.uk/micra/20.html

Forty quid.

https://www.leatherman.com/micra-20.html

Thirty bucks.

Hmm.

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Re: Back in my day

I also own a SAK Champ. As do a few of my friends. I got it in Switzerland in 1992 on a school trip. We all bought them from the same shop, which mad have had something to so with the tall, busty, blonde German lass working the counter.

It's done stalwart service since then. Admittedly the scissors have long since broken, other bits are missing and it's got more than a few battle scars but it still works and it still used.

I also have an imitation leatherman from Aldi I keep in a desk drawer at work which for £6 is very useful too.

I feel a bit naked without a multitool nearby

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Re: Back in my day. all you needed was screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife

Actually, screwdriver as stethoscope isn’t so uncommon in mechanical use and if you weren’t sure where vibration was coming from and had limited tools it would still be a valid technique...

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Re: Back in my day

"my dad has had one for as long as I've known him and it never leaves his side"

Same for my dad - his lies at his side still...

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Re: Back in my day

Best SAK for anyone wearing jeans and have that little extra pocket (which, apparently, is for a cowboys watch, and no, I don't know if that is a euphemism for something naughty and Brokeback Mountain was no help) is a Jellylite Manager. I must use mine 20 times a day and I feel naked without it.

Thin Blade for opening boxes and parcels.

Nail File and Flat Screwdriver

Ballpoint Pen for when a delivery arrives and you have to sign for it.

Phillips screwdriver/bottle opener/wire stripper

Small Very (very) Sharp Scissors

LED Light which, if held at carpet level, finds shiny bits really well, and helped me get six people down three flights of stairs in a power-cut.

Plus it's tiny!

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Re: Back in my day - SAK owners

Just a quick public service announcement for Victorinox SAK lovers (Champion, Hunter etc): if it's getting tired and worn, send it back for a geniunely free refurb from the factory. I did the same with my Swiss Champ a few years ago and it came back like new. Just arrange the repair with the UK distributors: https://www.burton-mccall.co.uk/brand/victorinox-sak/.

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I don't know if anything has changed

I have the feeling that maintenance people have always (still today) been sent in the field without prior maintenance of any form.

If only, because to organise a maintenance training, you need to have an experience f what can go wrong, and you need manuals and documentation, and we know when manual and documentation are written...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I don't know if anything has changed

"and we know when manual and documentation are written..."

Approx 2 years after the product has shipped (If my current employer is anything to go by)

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