back to article You did what? The trials of supporting remote users

IT support, as we know, is that job function in the technical ecosystem that takes the flack for any problem affecting a user. These can range from the straightforward if annoying forgotten password requests and slightly cryptic ‘my-laptop-isn't-working-anymore’ complaints, through to the more serious ‘accidentally deleted’ …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Reasonable request

    Working helpdesk for local government a few years back I am still amused by an email from one of the councillors asking for a copy of the internet on CD so they could use it at home...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's this button do...?

    I dunno if this actually did happen, but I'd love to believe it's true. Whilst working for a very large computer manufacturer, I heard this story of a site visit gone wrong.

    Said company used to arrange tours of their facility for IT students from a local college.

    One of these tours had finally arrived in the main machine room, and the tour guide was running through his script about "mainframe this", "disk storage that", "comms rack the other"; when one voice from the back of the tour group called out "what does this big red switch on the wall do?" The guide looked round just in time to see the student accidentally press the emergency power cut off switch for the entire room!

    Fortunately, the button was the "release to break" type and legend has it the poor student had to stand there, with his hand on the button for 15 minutes while the IT staff initiated a graceful shutdown of all the kit in the room.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Ah end users....the joys...

    Hmm having worked in a support desk environment for 5+ years now. Providing support for a range of people from the general public to lawyers and secretaries in various firms to council staff I have had possibly hundreds, nay thousands, of fantastic support calls. Here are some that still tickle me today.

    Telephony issue:

    User having difficulty retrieving voicemail, done the manual phone reset so proceeded to ask him to unclip the "curly cord" from the bottom of the phone. The user didnt need to use the clip as he appeared to be physically able to removed the cable without...DOH!!!!

    Different user (telephony)

    Me: What type of phone do you have (referring to make model etc)

    User: A yellow one!! LOL!!!! (that still makes me wet myself today)

    Joe public. User calling, My pc has caught fire due to a part that was replaced by one of your engineers. (child in background "but daddy, the computer didnt catch fire, you set it on fire") you couldnt write it!

  4. Ben Roberts

    just a bit dumb :)

    Switching over to VNC edition instead of connecting via Remote desktop Control with XP Pro was the best plan we could come up with considering we could show and learn the users what they are doing wrong and maybe tell me what is going wrong.

    But the sheer laughter of connecting first time to an 'un-experienced' remote desktop user and taking over there computer, was a mass amount of phone calls involving mainly women absolutely petrified that there was a ghost or some sort rummaging through her files and setting.

    But it's not always the vulgar women that lose all inteligence when IT support takes over the computer. my experience made me nearly pissed my self for the dumbness that occured.

    a bloke at my work at another site phoned up for a bit of support, as they do. on the phone he sounded really concern why a folder would not able him to copy and paste to another folder, (reason was a word document was still open) but the sheer funny ness of the poor old man shouting at telling me which folder he wanted to edit, by telling me that he was pointing at the folder, 'i'm pointing at the folder!!' not with hi mouse but with his finger! total silence of embarrassment!

  5. Stef

    Back in the day

    This will be the early 80s when I was a humble op for a large sweetie firm in Sheffield which had a subsidiary many miles away.

    "Me computer's brok"

    "Is the cursor flashing?"


    "Can you see a little flashing square on the screen?"


    "Is there a light on the keyboard?"


    There was more of this, eventually we were getting to the stage of the only option being loading up a car for a long drive out with replacement kit.

    "'ang on a bit, s'not plugged in"


  6. Nick Palmer
    Paris Hilton


    User calls me.

    User: My laptop won't turn on.

    Me: Are there any lights showing?

    User: No, it's just not working.

    <We go around the houses a few times checking the power etc>

    Me: OK, looks like it'll have to come in.

    <Time passes, then user comes into my office>

    User: I've brought my laptop in, it still won't turn on.

    Me: OK, let's have a look.

    <User hands me laptop case, most notable feature of same being a &%$£ing huge tyre-mark across the middle.>

    User: It's just not been working at all...

    Me: ...since you drove your car over it?

    User: <sheepish look> Errrrrr...yes...

    Me: No shit.

    User: Is it covered under the warranty?

    Me: Oddly, no...

    Paris, 'cause she's still got some tread on her too...

  7. Marc Routliff


    Back in the days when I was a engineer in a computer shop, three little times allways pop to mind. A customer when insisted on buying a pack of blank cd's just to see what would hapen, even know we insisted they would not work when he did not poses a CD-RW. Another customer who came in and wanted to buy an ATX case, on hearing that the cheapest we had was 20 pounds, he seemed shocked, saying he wanted more then one, he infact was interested in the 2000 we had. Puzzeled I asked why, it seems on the recormendation of his IT Support officer, he needed lots of ATX cases to "build a firewall". and lastly A young man of 15/16 yrs came in and bough a CD-RW drive, confident he could take the nice new drive home and fit it him self. near the end of the an older gent (namly the boys dad) came in carring a PC with the sheepish lad behind him. On hearing that the PC 'blew up" with an array of sparks and smoke after the fitting of this drive, In pure curiosity I removed the side panel to find that insted of connecting the 2 required cables (the power and data cable) the young promosing engineer had indeed pluged them in, and also striped a live lead inside, soldered speaker wire to it and then soldered the other end of the speaker wire from the live lead to the pins for selecting slave or master. The result was the frying of the CD-RW, and the speaker wire melting and catching fire. When asked why on earth he would do this the answer was simply, I though it was what I had to do.

  8. Andus McCoatover

    @My faux pas...

    Done that! Had an IBM 600E lappie with two ports, RH 7.3 (Still the best) . One connected to the office intranet, and the other supplying dhcp to the blade server I was testing.

    This Cupid Stunt did wrong, and when I set it up I failed to tell dhcp to serve only eth1 (the blade)

    Wondered why the disk was thrashing hopelessly while doing nothing....

    Worse, I went for an 'extended lunch' (ok, I lived nearby, missus off that day and it turned into a "grub-screw" ;-) to see if it'd get stable, leaving the machine in a quite restricted room. Very few employees (10?) had access.

    'course, it was giving IP addy's to anyone who rebooted their PC. In a complex of 1000+, that'll happen a lot. Esp. with Senior Execs arriving regularly to give presentations.

    Returned about 2 hours later. Bollocking was too good for me. Other IT blokes thought "Good day for a hanging".

    As I've left - unrelated reason - , I can tell you that this was c. 2004 @ Nokia, Tampere, Finland. Finns aren't noted for their emotions, but these blokes rewrote the rules!

  9. Stef

    Not exactlt IT Support, but...

    The Midlands, late 80s, a large regional brewer.

    The IT Director was an accountant transferred over from Finance because he knew how to set up a spreadsheet. Would sit in his office, red-faced, puffing on his pipe.

    There was no computer in his office.

    The Project Manager had no computer in his office either.

    The IT Director's first brilliant idea - get rid of all the computers IN THE IT DEPARTMENT.

    We could write everything down and the secretary would type them in for us.

    I'm sure that by now he's running a bank.

  10. sam


    Whoa whoa whoa, How am I supposed to know what a "Mailbox Control Panel" is?

    Clue's in the name


  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    what is this? alt.sysadmin.recovery?

  12. Anonymous Coward

    The server only works properly when you are here

    Going back a decade ago, used to work for a small IT company.

    Attending a customer site to do the monthly server health check (check the logs, do a test restore, check disk space, etc), was approached by the manager and a tech who was onsite doing an upgrade of the banking software they ran on all their PCs who informed me the server had been running very poorly. Only thing I could think of was that, when I came in, the server (running NT4) had a 3D screensaver set - which, in those days of having no 3D processing on the graphics card was a CPU killer. Of course I had turned this off as soon as I logged in - and I then explained this issue to the manager.

    Got the tech to run an install and it ran really well. Packed up and headed for the next site.

    20 minutes later, my boss is on the phone telling me to turn around and head back, as the server wasn't working properly and the manager had just given him an earful. I called the company and asked her if she had turned on the 3D screensaver, which she said she had, as it was her server and if I thought this was the problem I was an idiot. Eventually I convinced her to walk over to the server whilst the tech was mid-install and just move the mouse. Screensaver cut-out, install instantly speed up, "lady" manager went silent, then "Bye" and hung up.

    Rang my boss back and told him what had transpired. Was rather glad when I got back to the office that afternoon and was informed he had canned their support agreement.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Red or white?

    Caller: "I spilt wine in my laptop. Can you get me a new one by tomorrow?"

    Me: "Maybe - where are you at present?"

    Caller: "Detroit."

    Me: "Ok, it's not physically possible to get you one from our spares here in Melbourne (Australia)..."

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong way up

    I was once in a rather large pharmaceutical company campus where a mobile user couldn't get his laptop to work on the network. After going through all the usual rigmarole I gave up on the telephone solution and electrd to walk the two and a half miles to his office.

    By the time I got to his office, he was most apologetic. While I was walking to him, he worked out that he had managed to put the network cable in upside down. Yes - upside down.

    Needless to say I didn't ask for a demonstration as to just how he had managed to achieve this; I simply thanked him for being so honest and proceeded to walk a number of miles back to the office.

  15. Colin Sutton

    @AC Re: Oops - Argus at AGC

    I was fascinated to read that the Argus 500 with my hot backup software was still running the Advanced Gas-Cooled Nuclear Power Station after the 2MB Burroughs Disks were replaced. I debugged the OS on those machines.

    One of those Burroughs disks had an intermittent problem when it was delivered, would drop a couple of bits once every few hours. A keen hardware engineer sat looking at a scope connected to the data lines waiting for the problem to occur. He spotted that there was a glitch when the vacuum pump operated - the disc was in a sealed enclosure, with a small window through which we could check how bad the scratches were after a head crash. He replaced a filter across the pump drive circuit, and the drive never lost a bit again.

    My help-desk story: I was called up one night at 3am by a power station operator telling me that the printer wasn't working. It turned out it had run out of paper. I led him through connecting up a new box of fan-fold paper and went back to bed. An hour later I'd just got back to sleep when he rang me again: "the printer is working ok now" .

  16. Anonymous Coward

    One for me, three for others,...

    1. When I got my first subscription to the internet (28.8k mode, windows 98), I could not connect to my ISP. Now I am a developer and pretty hopeless at networking, so I ended up with the ISP support person going through the applications installed on their pc to see if it matched mine,...

    Supt: Terminal Services

    Me: Yep

    Supt: TCP/IP

    Me: Yep,.. uh hang on what was that one again?

    Supt: TCP/IP

    Me: Thats the missing one - I think its important somehow.


    2. In my days in miltiary IT Support of an old mainframe application, I got a phone call from a Major in the Supply division.

    Maj: I have been trying to logout from your application. it says "F10=Exit" and I have been pressing the "F" key, the "1" key and the "0" key and nothing is happening.

    Me: O-O-O-O-OK sir, if you look above the main row of number keys on the keyboard, there is a set of 12 keys grouped into bunches of 4. They have F followed by a number on them - press the tenth one along.

    (I was a private at the time, so was not permitted to laugh until I had signed off)

    3. Helping a female Doctor friend over the phone.

    Me: Type "dir c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc"

    Her: OK, I made a mistake with the last character, it said "No such file or directory".

    Me: Press F3 then backspace over the last character and change it

    Her: (in amazement): The last line I typed just got redisplayed! How on earth did you do that?

    4. Troubleshooting an HP Printer with JetDirect installed.

    Me: Does the Printer XX99 have paper.

    User: yes I am standing by it and it does.

    Me: I just interrogated this printer using JetAdmin, it says "out of paper".

    User: Definitely paper in all trays

    Me: I have just printed a test page, it has gone through the printer OK, is it there?

    User: Nope.

    [15 minutes later]

    Me: Is there a label on the printer, top-right? What does it say?

    User: "Printer YY26"

    Me: You have been standing by the wrong printer for the last 15 minutes.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ This is definitely true because it's on your screen

    Man if I had a quid for every time I day dreamed about doing that...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missing text

    In 1987 a colleague called me about a problem he was having with his home computer (we only had three PC's in the company then, of which I happened to have one). He had already spoken to the shop where he bought the machine and had taken it in, but the only solution they had was to wipe the hard drive and reinstall Windows (3.11). Since he had some important spreadsheets on it that existed only on his machine, he obviously declined the offer and called me instead.

    His problem was that everything had gone white - he could not see anything. A couple of questions later it transpired that the windows were still there, but the contents had disappeared.

    Eventually I discovered that he had been fiddling around with settings, trying to make Windows look better, and managed to set both the background and font colour to white.

    It took some mental gymnastics to fix, as I was not near a machine, so had to try and remember the commands to change it back to something he could read, but we eventually managed.

    If he could he would have kissed me over the phone, he was so happy. Also a lot cheaper than what the shop wanted to charge him to rebuild his machine.

  19. peter garner

    Mouse fun

    Admittedly some years ago:

    Me: ".. and then you click on the Start button with your mouse.."

    She: ".. oh I've never used a mouse before - how do it do that?"

    Me: ".. Umm.. hold it like you a bar of soap and move it around the desk"

    She: "I never use soap".

    Silence - presumably she used shower gel though

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Is Transatlantic remote enough?

    Email from my mother-in-law;

    "Internet is down. Will update once it's back"

    STOP, because we should have stopped when considering getting her a computer.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Used to work..

    .. for a big computer supplier, was told thsi story about a customer who came in before i started.

    A man came in with a burnt out pc, the pc smelt of parafin(or something nice and flamable anyway). Puts it down on the desk and says "i want a new pc, this one caught fire, i was able to chuck it out of the window where it landed on a bail of hay"

    it went to court and apparently he managed to get money back, dunno which judge decided on that.

    Flames cause.. well ..

  22. Paul Westerman


    "a visiting engineer pooped into the help desk.."

    Well, that's not going to improve the situation, is it.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    numpty CSOs in govt departments

    a CSO was a user with slightly-advanced access for basic IT maintenance at remote sites.

    One numpty kept asking us every week or so to alter the hosts file for a printer IP address. When he eventually was asked why, he said it kept changing every time he rebooted it.

    Last I heard he is an MSCE and causing even more obtuse problems.

  24. Ivan

    Computer Slow

    I received a call from a user in a remote office. He complained that his Desktop was running slow. I RD into his computer and start poking around at his Start Up programs. Discovered kazaa running on a corporate desktop downloading movies and music.

    I explained how bad this program not only could affect him but his job. He then stated, "Oh, maybe that is why my tablet is running slow as well?" He had kazaa running on it as well, over the corporate wireless.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Hardware issue

    We had a user drop a laptop down a lift shaft, down the little gap between the lift doors and the floor doors. I guess her system crashed. I am sure that takes some doing.

    I also had a colleague - a road warrior - who, on a drunken night out, fell into the sea boarding a mutual friend's boat at a marina. The mutual friend , who had fished our man out of the sea, rang me next morning to tell me as it was quite a laugh. Road Warrior calls in later to say that he needed a new smartphone as he'd dropped his smartphone in the lav ('it fell out my jacket pocket!').

    You could have heard a pin drop when I asked him why there was salt water in the 'lav'...

  26. Mr Larrington

    Celebrity Give Us A Clue

    In a previous existence, one of my tasks was keeping an eye on a thing we used to run for the Ministry of Filth and Lies, or "BBC" as some are wont to call it. Among the clever things it did to amuse itself in the still watches of the night was automatically to execute stored searches of the Data Bases and e-mail the results to the intended recipient. One such recipient was a well-known TV presenter. His searches, though, had clearly been set up by someone else, as the automagic system soon received a plaintive reply from the well-known TV presenter, along the lines of "Help! What am I supposed to do with this?"

    Because I am evil, and don't like wasting time wielding the Cluebat, I had set up an auto-reply saying "I am only a a piece of software and cannot help you. Pray call the Helldesk". The well-known TV presenter, however, did not heed the warning, and kept replying. Until, that is, I got fed up with him and deleted all his searches. Blissful e-silence ensued.

    Eventually the Ministry of Filth and Lies declined to pay for the system any more, so we buried it in an unmarked grave at midnight with a stake through its heart, and used the disks to make soap. It would be cruel and heartless of me to mention the well-known TV presenter's name, but I'm betting the merest mention of his name makes Mik-ell How-erd squirm with embarrassment.

  27. Adam Nealis
    IT Angle

    When is a cardboard box not a cardboard box? and other tales ...

    All the following are from my time spent at London Business School in the IT Dept.


    "What Operating System are you running?"



    Asked many times in 1993 - 1995 by MBA students (in an American accent): "How do I get on Innernet?". I watched those people become addicted to Windows 3.11 on laptops. Then to the "Innernet". I believe that these people, our future "business leaders", are responsible for a lot of the crap we still deal with. Microsoft spent their marketing dollars well.


    I am manning the helpdesk. I get a call: "This is the 3rd time this week I have called you. There is a computer in its box outside my office. It is blocking the corridor. When will you come and move it."

    I replied "Did it occur to you that maybe the porters left it there? Just because the box has a computer in it, why do you call IT? Please call the porters and ask them to remove it."


    Another call to Helpdesk: "Hi, I think there is a problem with my computer screen. The picture is kinda wavy."

    It's a hot day, so I ask "is there an electrical applicance that is switched on near the monitor?"

    "Er, no."

    Undaunted, I continued, "Is there a fan near your computer?"

    "Yes there is. Please wait a moment ... There, I've moved it and the picture is fine. Thank you very much."

    [The user was always civil, and genuinely pleased that I solved his problem. But note the automatic "no" to my question.]


    "Good morning, IT Helpdesk."

    "Hello, there is a problem with my computer. I want you to come and fix it." This said in an accusatorial tone. Therefore, the user will not get a visit unless I think there is a non-PEBKAC problem.

    "Can you describe the problem?"

    "The computer is white."

    "You mean the box is white, or the picture is white?"

    "The picture is white."

    I suspected that this was becuase the VGA cable was loose. I've noticed this before. The first thing to do is to reseat the cable. In principle, if a user can put a key in a lock, the user is capable of doing this.

    "And it was fine yesterday?"


    "Has anything changed since yesterday?"


    [Note the automatic "No"]

    "Have you moved your PC recently?"

    "Yes. This morning." This without a trace of irony.

    "OK. Can you please disconnect the monitor cable and plug it in again? Not the electrical cable, the blah blah one."

    "I've done it and it is still broken. Please come and fix it."

    [That was too fast. I know she's lying.]

    "Ah, maybe one of the pins is bent. Can you please remove the video cable from the monitor and tell me if the pins are bent?"

    [The user will now worry that if there is aproblem, they might get the blame (after all, she moved the PC herself. Our porters flat refused to move PCs, even if we disconnected them, etc.) This gets the user to remove the cable and check it..]

    "OK. The pins are not bent."

    "Please put the cable back."

    "OK. I've done it. It is fixed now."


    I was in a bad mood when I got this one:

    "Hi, I appear to have a memory problem."

    "Then go and see a doctor." <click>

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    always fun

    remember someone ringing me from another office saying that his computer was just beeping at him and the screen had frozen...

    made him wait 5 mins then rang back and told him to shift the pile of papers from the edge of his keyboard that were resting on the small enter key...

    then fed him a load about having to dial into the spy camera's in his office to find out what was wrong.

    apparantly caused a bit of panic in that office, one of the directors tried to bollock me but was laughing too much...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Start with the basics

    I had a user ring me up to say his colleague could not logon to our system so i reset the password and ensured all was correct with his account. Still no joy so i asked what he was entering in the username, password, domain boxes but he said these options werent available on his screen. After a brief silence he then said "If i logoff first, would this help?"

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Its job security

    Yes we all slap our heads and let out the Homer Simpson "D'oh!" when these things happen but for some, its what keeps them employed. A couple examples I have experienced as inbound tech for a local ISP.

    A caller calls in with their internet is not working and they need it to work. Equipment all checks out fine, so what is going on with the computer. The computer is booting up with a black screen with the no system disk found message.

    Another situation of everything plugged in correctly but not working was due to a modem being plugged into an outlet that was controlled by a wall switch. The modem had a battery back up so when the switch was off it would run for a few hours but stop working once the battery died. Once the battery died the phone would stop working since it was a Voip style of phone. The real kicker is this went on for a few weeks including dispatching two techs to the home where everything appeared fine.

    Finally one that stands out in my mind is when someone called and while going through support the person requested that the caller close the window. Throughout the call this request was made a few times without ever catching on that when the close the window request was made, the caller would say hold on a second. Finally the last time the request to close the window is made, the caller stated that it is going to be difficult closing any further windows in her home because they all have been closed.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    old boss

    My old boss a few years back was a classic example of the Peter Principle, perpetually complaining about stuff like "my printer doesn't print" after selecting US paper size on an A4 printer and being unable to press the big green button.

    She also claimed much expertise in writing presentations. The example below is one of many. I wasn't even IT support, by this point the real support guy was way beyond being patient.

    (phone rings)

    me: Hello, Graphics.

    boss: There's something wrong with my computer, I can't see how to sort slides in Powerpoint.

    me: Uh, OK. Just click the icon in the bottom left. It looks like four little slides.

    boss: What? I can't see that.

    me: It's on the lower left. Four little white squares in a 2 by 2 grid. Or you could also use the View menu at the top and select slide sorter.

    boss: That's not right. I can see View but there's no slide sorter.

    me: That's odd. Have you asked IT?

    boss: They're no good. You'll have to come down. (hangs up)

    (1 floor, 2 security doors later)

    boss: See? Like I said, no icon. You're meant to know about this!

    me: I see. Is everything on screen exactly as it was when you called?

    boss: Of course! What's the problem?

    me: Well, first, this document is in Word...

  32. Rob Beard

    A couple of calls...

    I imagine I've had loads of funnies over the past 13 or so years I've worked in IT support although I can't think of many at the moment.

    I do recall a couple of annoying calls though from my last job working as an IT support bod for a large group of radio stations (who were taken over last year).

    Now I was the one IT bod for the region with two Broadcast Engineers so to be helpful and learn a bit more about Broadcast Engineering I said I'd be happy to provide on-call cover 1 week in three. Now there was one user who tended to be a bit of a pain in the arse, he was a nice enough bloke and I got on okay with him but he had a tenancy to call for the littlest of things. This guy did travel news for the breakfast and drive time shows so did early shifts (5am start).

    I got a call from him one day to say that one of the playout systems wasn't working and that he couldn't pre-record his show. Now the general idea was, only phone an engineer out of hours if the station has gone off air or if something mission critical has stopped working (i.e. the playout system gone down and they're playing off CDs, or the news computers don't work).

    So he thought it was critical but I tried to explain in the best way possible whilst half asleep that it could wait (his show wasn't due to go out until 12pm and he was recording about 30 mins of links). Suffice to say I talked him through restarting the playout system but I was not impressed. Annoyingly he used to do that quite often.

    On another occasion I had a call from a presenter at our most remote (geographically anyway) station for our region. He said that the computer for e-mail and internet wasn't working in the studio. Now this isn't as mission critical but still fairly important. After much over the phone troubleshooting and remoting in to find the PC was working okay I got ready to head up to the station (this was a Saturday morning about 10am and the journey was about a 180 mile round trip). Luckily before making the trip I called one of the other more clued up presenters who lived nearby who popped in. Turns out the presenter hadn't tried turning the monitor on. Was kind of my fault for not thinking of that but generally the kit was never turned off in the studios.

    Apart from that I've had a couple of annoying calls, an ad's machine failing at 8pm and me spending the night messing about getting it going and things like KVM over ethernet boxes failing and the presenters not being able to work (usually this sort of thing happened over night or on a weekend, never during working hours!). The great thing about being on call though for that company was that we got a minimum of 30 mins time off in leiu for sorting things out so if a call took 5 minutes we'd get 30 mins off, I think I must have got about an extra week's holiday a year out of that.

    I have also made some boo-boo's in the past...

    Once when I was working at one of the radio stations I ended up taking a station off air for 5 mins (the station was automated the majority of the day from an old DOS based playout system). I pressed CTRL-ALT-DEL on the wrong keyboard and it rebooted the machine. Luckily it wasn't a much listened to station.

    Also when I was much younger and learning more about computers I ended up screwing up my dad's PC a couple of times. Once I accidentally deleted the Stacker files from his hard drive so it wouldn't boot and all he was left with was a big hidden compressed file, and another time I set a BIOS password on his PC and forgot it. Luckily with the help of my local school technician (who I haven't seen in years, if you're reading this Francis, look me up on Facebook), he helped me get back up and running and saved me a grounding.

    Mine's the one with the 40MB hard drive with Stacker compression set to 30:1 on it.


  33. David Mitchell

    It's not always hands off.

    As an Ex IT support manager now running my own IT Support busines I would be more than happy to make site visits to anyone's remote users/customers!!


  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Takes an Engineer....

    [This isn't a remote support one, but it's still a good one to show just how much trouble a little knowledge can create.]

    I work on the other side of the wall from support, in development. For a product we were working on, we had to create a root file system image. To do this, we essentially created an entire directory tree of files, and then tar'd it up.

    Being new at some of the things, we came up with a simple set of steps and automated the process

    1. su root (so everything we make is root)

    2. empty the working directory (by doing an 'rm -rf $WORK_DIRECTORY')

    3. copy all the files

    4. build the tar ball

    One day, while developing the script, someone set the environment variable WORK_DIRECTORY incorrectly so it pointed at the root of our build server's directory tree. Lucikly, "/bin" and "/lib" were before "/home", so we only had to reinstall the OS, not rebuild the system.

    Then we learned about fakeroot...

    - John

  35. Sabine Miehlbradt

    Simulating trouble

    A company I once worked for was writing the code for a railway simulator for a museum on a Pentium 500 with the keyboard rewired to the controls of a real train exhibit. (Basically a railway game).

    One nice day the museum called my boss and told him in no uncertain terms that our software had "failed". Boss send me down with a work order of "Take a look at this and pull a few teeth while you are down there."

    A 3 hour drive later I was staring at a BIOS error message: 3B stuck key. - our software hadn't even run yet. Took me 20 minutes to persuade the local manager to get me a replacement keyboard.

    The project was cursed anyway. Two weeks later the board failed intermittently and guess what was blamed? And of course the customer never understood why they didn't get the same kind of gfx and functionality from a Pentium and 80K Marks worth of programming than from the 3M Marks custom hardware simulator used for train drivers' training.

  36. steve

    It's your phone man!

    I used to work as a helpdesk manager and one of our techs was taking a call and then bursts out laughing after he put the phone down.

    I asked him what happened as the scenario is one of the managers 'upstairs' calls down to say he has forgotten his password (following a liquid lunch) my guy dutifully resets the password and says it's todays date, in numbers you'll need to reset it once you've logged in.

    All good and perfectly normal...

    The next thing he hears is beep beep beep beep beep beep in his ear, calm as you like he reminds the caller that he needs to use the keypad on his PC rather than the buttons on his phone....

  37. Anonymous Coward

    re - What's this button do...?

    I think that story is a common theme in IT departments.

    I heard a strikingly similar story at my last job about one of the operations guys. At the time he was new to the department, and had gone into the server room to reboot one of the dev machines. Literally as he pushed the power button on the fascia, a colleague who happened to be with him at the time yelled 'STOP!! Thats the production box!!".

    The production box had just started processing its end of day batch as well, so the poor guy couldn't let go of the button as this would kill the machine mid-batch and *really* screw things up. Despite all attempts there was no room to get a screwdriver or other implement past his finger to secure the recessed button ... so he had to stand there with his finger holding in the power button, slowly going blue, until the batch was done an hour or two later and the machine could be gracefully shut down.

    There was a similar story at the same site about a different colleague who accidentally stepped into a void in the server room floor where there was a missing floor tile. Instinctively reaching out to catch himself from a nasty fall, he very unfortunately happened to slap his hand right on emergency power shutoff button with catastrophic results...

  38. Nick Pettefar

    Floppies and the Off-Switch man.

    Has everyone forgotten the fiasco of PCs not booting up because of the punter leaving a floppy in the drive? Maybe I am too old...

    A bit off-topic but in my youth I repaired people's motorbikes at their homes to supplement my income. I received a call from a rather eloquent gent saying that he had given up trying to fix his trial bike and could I come and have a look. Probably something electrical, he said. I arrived and looked at the bike - a nice little Yamaha trial bike. The guy told me he ran a firm of solicitors in the town and he certainly had a nice house and car to match. He said the bike wouldn't start one day and he had eventually ascertained that it had no spark. He had then changed the sparking plug, HT lead, coil and battery.

    I wheeled the bike out of the large garage, checked the fuel and the fuel taps, checked it was in neutral, put the kill switch in the run position, checked the brakes, put the choke on, switched the ignition on and kicked on the kick-starter a couple of times wherupon the machine burst into life. I let the engine warm up and took the choke off and it idled quite nicely. I checked the lights and horn and found everything working OK. I switched it off and then saw the man was standing in amazement with his mouth open.

    It turned out he had accidentally knocked the engine run-switch to the off position.

    From then on (I did more work for him) he was known as the Off-Switch man...

    PS Ditto the OS=Word for my mother.

    PPS Ditto the plugging speakers into the mains for my sister!

    PPS Someone saw my teacher sister "power-cycling" the school's electronic whiteboard to reset it and made her head of I(C)T!

  39. Rodrigo Valenzuela

    Re: Nick Pettefar

    now the floppies have been replaced by forgotten usb pendrives.


  40. Jesthar

    Playing 'piggy in the middle'

    I'm the sole sys and tech admin for a business critical system with over 2,500 users on it (some our own company workers, others contractors). As this system is (thankfully) independent from our IT department, our overseas helldesk has no access at all to it (and long may it stay that way!), so I am also the top level system support, giving me a user base of technical abilities from techno-whizz to techno-luddite to handle.

    However, whilst most users know to call me directly for support, some inevitably call the helldesk instead, who have instructions to pass them on to me. This gives me dual potential sources of 'amusement':

    1. Clueless Users - nuff said!

    2. Incompetent Helldesk drones - let's just say that my standard cut'n'paste e-mail to users following an e-mail ticket from the helldesk begins "Hi, xxxx here - I have had a rather content free e-mail from the helpdesk saying you have a problem with System Y, can you fill me in on the details?" - knowing full well the poor person would have spent ages trying to explain the problem in the first place. Assuming the helldesk e-mail actually bothers to give me any contact details in the first place...

    And now an example of each:

    1. I had a request in for a new user account, which I duly created and dispatched. Having logged in successfully, next day the user called me asking for an account reset, which I did - new user, new password mislaid, it happens - or so I figured. Reset done, user logs in, all OK.

    Next morning, a e-mail from the same user - their password had 'stopped working again since yesterday', could I reset it? Bit of eye rolling at my end, but one reset my end and everything is OK again.

    The following morning they're back again! By now I'm suspicious, so I don't reset the password and try the login details I supplied to them yesterday. Hey presto, they work, and the Sys Admin spider sense tingles with a suspicion as to what is going on. Ten minutes and one phone call to the user later, suspicion confirmed - the system asks new users to type in their full name when they log in for the first time, and somehow this user believed (contrary to their experience with EVERY other system we have) that putting in their full name also changed their login name... Had inspiration not struck, goodness knows how many resets we would have gone through!

    2. Not specifically related to my system, but I once spent about 15 minutes trying to explain to helldesk drone (who appeared to have left his brains in his sock drawer) in ever more simple terms that no, we couldn't confirm whether someone had access to a specific secure folder on the network because the user's main computer login was not working, and therefore they couldn't even get into the machine let alone that folder! My 'favourite' part of the conversation went as follows:

    Drone: The user cannot log in?

    Me: No

    Drone: Well, can you get them to log in then, please? We need to close the case down.

    Me: Well, it wasn't working this morning, but we'll try...

    Drone: Please to try, we need to close the case down.

    <one failed login attempt later>

    Me: Sorry, they still can't log in?

    Drone: They cannot log in?

    Me: No.

    Drone: Well, can they see xxxx folder, we need to close the case down?

    Me: *here-we-go-again-sigh*

  41. james4765

    Tales from the other side

    Company I used to work at is still running Windows 95 on all their desktops. A few years ago, some of the machines had corrupted the antivirus installs, and I called to get a disk to re-install. Now, I was a fleet mechanic, but was well on my way into transitioning to a unix admin, and had more than enough of a clue to do this simple task. It turned out the software required access to a central FTP server to pull updates, so I called the hell desk.

    Me: "I'd like to get the user name and password for the antivirus update server, so the software can pull updates."

    Helpdesk: "We don't have an FTP server."

    Me: "Actually, you do, I found the server IP for the update server on one of the installs that is still working. All I need is the access to do antivirus updates."

    ...time passes, and no progress is made...

    Helpdesk: "I'm sorry, I can't give you the password. You might hack the server."

    Me (after completely losing all sanity) "Motherf___er, I do not need a f___ing read-only FTP password to hack your g_dd__m server!"

    Things went downhill from there.

    I got written up, but it was worth it...

  42. Anonymous Coward

    I am that helldesk monkey!

    As per the title, I'm a helldesk analyst for a firm with around 2,500 LAN and WAN users. We have around 400 users each and deal with everything form software how tos to catastrophic hardware failure (e.g. terminals don't work very well when underwater for some unknown reason).

    A few stand out as truly memorable:

    1) The screen says "no video input" on it. What do I do? - try turning the PC on. Minimum half a dozen per week.

    2) I'm clicking on the picture on the screen but nothing happens - the picture that's in black and white with a notice saying "this is a screen shot" on it. Perhaps it needs a blinking message in neon pink and lime green, something subtle... A couple of these every week without fail.

    3) A one off, 20 minutes spent trying to guide someone to the single, solitary silver release catch located on the side of a black printer. They couldn't see it. At all. 20 minutes on the phone, 15 spent on mute screaming with frustration and literally beating my head on the desk. Having everyone else in the department crying with laughter REALLY helped my temper no end. Finding out that the user couldn't tell left from right and never thought to check the other side was truly, truly priceless.

    Flames 'cos I was positively incandescent then!

  43. Anonymous John

    @ Floppies and the Off-Switch man.

    " Has everyone forgotten the fiasco of PCs not booting up because of the punter leaving a floppy in the drive?"

    Oh yes!

    Where I worked 12 years ago, the on-site IT support role was given to three managers who knew little about PCs.

    Once, one was summoned to a PC. Five minutes later, another arrived, followed by a third shortly afterwards. My curiosity go the better of me, I approached them, ejected the floppy, pressed the return key, and walked away without saying anything.

    Some time later, one of them sat down at a W95 machine with a stack of floppies, Clearly intending to back up the 20MB database to restore it to the replacement W98 PC. I didn't have the heart to tell him it wouldn't work. Not until he'd finished the backup, that is.

  44. Ian Hodgetts

    Not a modern myth (this actually happened to me)

    Back when I was writing and supporting an old COBOL green-screen app, I had the following call.

    "I can't find the 'any' key."

    I had to explain to the bemused user (without laughing) that she could in fact press any of the keys on her keyboard.

    God's honest truth - it REALLY happened!

  45. Graysonn

    tech support.....

    "Hi, my mouse is broken. It's got no buttons and will only move up and down."

    after 5 minutes of confused conversation I figured it was a new user with an upsidedown wheely mouse.


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