back to article Sysadmin flees asbestos scare with disk drive, blank pay cheques, angry builders in pursuit

Welcome again to On-Call, our Friday frolic through readers' memories of jobs gone bad. This week, meet “John” who once worked for a construction company that printed its payroll checks every Thursday afternoon. “If the cheques were not ready early on Friday morning, the superintendents were more than willing to give the …

  1. Mage Silver badge

    Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

    Excellent.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

      Why do we never get to see the payroll clerks on Death Stars and Enterprises? Fighting off rebels and tentacled things with tax returns in triplicate. Darth Vader in a queue to ask why his tax code has changed.

      1. Steve Button

        Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

        "You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th Century"

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

          "You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th Century"

          Taxes existed before money, and will doubtless continue to exist after it.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

          "You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th Century"

          What century is it now again? I'm sure the first* film started with "Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

          *For the record, I quite liked the fourth film, which came out recently. That was quite a loooong wait after Return of the Jedi for the next Star Wars movie. Changing the subject slightly, is there ever going to be a sequel to The Matrix?

          1. Steve Walker
            Happy

            Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

            AC you are in space ... just the wrong franchise - and now in it's full nerdness-

            "The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity." - Captain Jean-Luc Picard, First Contact

            Off now to fix some stinking COW on a Friday!

          2. Jan 0

            Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

            > is there ever going to be a sequel to The Matrix?

            Errm, I knew there was one, but a quick surf shows there are two. However, I'm sure you can guess why you've never heard of them:). How come you haven't come to dread the prospect of sequels, do you long for disappointment that badly?

            Note: a well thought out series is not a set of sequels in the Hollywood sense.

            1. Vic

              Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

              I knew there was one, but a quick surf shows there are two

              *Whoosh*

              Vic.

            2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

              Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

              I echo the 'whoosh', you're missing subtext.

              There is only one Matrix film.

              There is one Highlander film (two if you're being generous).

              One Hobbit film

              Six Batman films

              Two Terminator films

              Three X-Men films (maybe four)

              Contentiously I recognise five Star Wars films..

        3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

          "You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th Century"

          Tsk tsk tsk. The push to go "cashless" isn't for the benefit of the consumer or seller. It's because cash transactions don't have middlemen between the seller & buyer taking a cut of the transaction. The push for a "cashless" society is driven by bankers & payment handlers wanting cuts of every transaction on the planet, and simply drives up the sellers costs & prices for the buyer.

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

            There's a big difference between a cashless economy and a society where money doesn't exist. For a start, the first doesn't really appeal to me...

      2. steamrunner

        Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

        For those 2000ad fans (both current and lapsed) amongst us, I give you: Judge Maitland.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minor_characters_in_Judge_Dredd#Maitland

        1. Black Rat
          Coat

          Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

          Nobody quits the Tharg life.

          1. Vic

            Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

            Nobody quits the Tharg life.

            I get up when I want except on Wednesdays when I get rudely awakened by the Thrill Suckers.

            Tharg Life

            Vic.

      3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

        Why do we never get to see the payroll clerks on Death Star

        [breathes heavily]

        My lightsaber is tax deductible!

        [breathes heavily]

        What do you mean you're going to have to put me on hold? I've already been forced to listen to the Imperical March for 25 minutes!

        [breathes heavily]

        Can I speak to your supervisor... No, do not put me on hold... Hello! Hello?

        [breathes heavily]

        Admiral, move the Deathstar to Alderaan.

        No, I don't care if the rebel base is on Hoth, the tax office is on Alderaan!

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

          The sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, features Lord Vader's subsequent disciplinary interview...

          1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

            Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

            Lord Vader is on his second warning. He's already crossed swords trays with Mr Stevens the Catering Manager.

            1. ben kendim

              Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

              Pang! :-)

        2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
          Coffee/keyboard

          Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

          You owe me a new keyboard (and a box of screen wipes)

        3. Down not across
          Coffee/keyboard

          Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

          @ I ain't Spartacus

          Bastard!

          Do you have any idea how many screws are needed to remove this laptop keyboard to attempt to clean it?

          Nevertheless, well played Sir. Well played.

      4. Alien8n Silver badge

        Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

        Look up Eddie Izzard's Lego Darth Vader sketch :)

      5. Servman

        Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

        If you're looking for mundane payroll, budget, and taxation issues in space, Babylon 5 is your best bet.

      6. kernelpickle

        Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

        ...direct deposit!

    2. Hawkeye Pierce

      Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

      Obligatory... you know the rest:

      https://xkcd.com/705/

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Die Hard VII: Sysadmin

        Randal Munro is really weird... To my never-ending delight.

  2. Steve Button

    Call Girl Principle

    According to the Call Girl Principle: the value of a service is always greater before it is received than after.

    "John" should have let the company owner know that there was no way he could get those cheques printed by the next day with the infrastructure that he'd been provided with. And then gone and fixed it anyway. Same outcome but framed completely differently.

    And the company owner might have given a lot more thought to avoid this sort of thing in the future, + provide some decent DR infrastructure rather than just "Meh, that's what I pay you for"

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Call Girl Principle

      Do you mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.

      Yeah, well, I told the Captain I'd have this analysis done in an hour.

      How long will it really take?

      An hour.

      Och, lad. You didn't tell him how long it would *really* take, did ya?

      Well, of course I did.

      Oh, laddie. You've got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

      1. Arctic fox
        Thumb Up

        @TRT Re:"Do you mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. "

        Thank you TRT, lovely to hear Scotty's voice again. Highly entertaining. See icon.

      2. ShadowDragon8685

        Re: Call Girl Principle

        That was, by far, my favorite episode of TNG. It's a shame Scotty didn't stick around on the Big E-D; not necessarily as a main cast member, but as someone you could occasionally see in Ten Forward, regaling people with tales of the old days.

        You wouldn't even have to work at all to justify his presence on the Enterprise: he's an alumnus of the first two ships to bear the name! Besides, you can always call him a civilian expert on 100-year-old technology, and it's not as if running into Mirandas, D-7s, and other shit leftover from the Kirk years is rare.

    2. Bloakey1

      Re: Call Girl Principle

      I thought she was a payroll clerk! D̶i̶r̶t̶y̶ Enquiring minds would like to know if he made a deposit and was she into double entry ?

      it is always the case that a disaster averted has less currency than a disaster that is imminent.

    3. IsJustabloke Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Call Girl Principle

      "And the company owner might have given a lot more thought to avoid this sort of thing in the future, + provide some decent DR infrastructure "

      awww bless... it's like you've never worked in industry :)

  3. Joe Werner
    Pint

    Good job!

    Yeah, having the doors kicked down by power-tool-wielding mobs is no fun. Good save, and also what a great computer store! Rolling in and saying you want to test this suitcase of stuff does not sit well with most. Hope you bought them a beer as well (or pushed some business their way). Such places need to stay in business.

    (I regularly buy stuff at my local bike shop, the owner has a very nice return policy and lets me borrow his tools. I mailorder a lot, but not all)

  4. chivo243 Silver badge
    Pint

    Typical Management Attitude

    Don't get all full of yourself, I pay you to fix things... pffft

    This one seems to be going above the call of duty, nice one!

  5. Disk0
    Coat

    Lads! given the circumstances of YOU DESTROYING MY OFFICE, for this week's payout you will receive cold hard cash directly from the boss. He's right over there behind the asbestos crew.

  6. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    electrical buss

    An electrical big sloppy kiss?

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: electrical buss

      At least the asbestos laden water wasn't going to catch fire.

      1. Jan 0

        Re: electrical buss

        > At least the asbestos laden water wasn't going to catch fire.

        Oh, I dunno, try adding a little Chlorine trifluoride?

  7. Guido Brunetti
    Happy

    The customer is always right!

    I saw this ad for a DIY store on a billboard regurlarly when driving from Vienna to Bratislava around y2k. Still funny :-)

    http://www.wanderinformatiker.at/galaxy/hobbys/obi1.htm

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: The customer is always right!

      "D er kunde hat immer recht" means "The customer is always right" to save everyone else a quick google translate.

  8. Lee D Silver badge

    Nothing.

    Nothing.

    Nothing compared to the wrath of hundreds of parents at a school sports day honing in on you when their little darling miscounted their own points, or argued over a fraction of a second.

    And you're the school IT guy who was given the job - by a friendly bursar who was rewarding you for a good week's work - of sitting out on a field, in the sun, under a veranda, with a free drink and a laptop and a box of USB stopwatches, the world's most complex event scoring system, dozens of simultaneous events with hundreds of children, and a years-old Excel spreadsheet with broken formulae written by a PE teacher.

    Oh, and the overall results need to be announced in 5 minutes, and the other schools competing will ALL be emailed the results for their newsletters this afternoon, and you can be damn sure that your scoring will be scrutinised heavier than a ticking suitcase at an airport by those nice sportsman your teams just thrashed, and their mummies and daddies, and the result you give now under pressure is going to be used to award trophies, so it better match their week-long analysis of the same data perfectly.

    No pressure.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Bursar

      How you must hate that bursar. ^_^

      I think I'd leave before the second annual sports day :(

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Bursar

        Three swimming galas (in boiling hot heated indoor pool with chlorine up your nose for hours)

        Two sports days

        and a cross-country run.

        Just don't forget to take the 3G dongle or you'll be bored stiff before the first event even starts.

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge
      Headmaster

      parents at a school sports day honing in on you

      This is an eggcorn. The actual expression is "homing in".

      Sorry.

      1. Bloakey1

        "This is an eggcorn. The actual expression is "homing in""

        <snip>

        But the knives were out, perhaps they were "honing in".

        1. Lee D Silver badge

          *cough*

          Undecided.

          http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000378.html

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "This is an eggcorn. The actual expression is "homing in"

            I think of "hone" as meaning "sharpen" or "arse" (neither of which makes much sense when put in front of "in") but maybe that's just me.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              RE: eggcorn

              "This is an eggcorn."

              I am the walrus

              Coo coo ca choo

            2. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

              "This is an eggcorn. The actual expression is "homing in"

              Or it could just be a typo. N is next to M on qwerty keyboard, it would be easy enough to hit the wrong key.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "But the knives were out, perhaps they were "honing in"."

          You don't "hone in" a knife. You just hone it. "Honing in" makes no sense and is simply wrong. Undecided my arse.

          1. Bitbeisser

            "horning in" just makes perfectly sense!

            Just picture the parents as a huge dust cloud following a herd of of angry heavy set cattle with lots of pointy horns barreling in your direction...

    3. Chris King Silver badge
      Pint

      "Nothing compared to the wrath of hundreds of parents at a school sports day honing in on you when their little darling miscounted their own points, or argued over a fraction of a second".

      You poor bastard. What did you do to deserve that ?

      Pint, because you will need many, many more of them to forget such an ordeal.

  9. Jad

    Windows NT

    "Back then even with the exact same model drives a tape created with one drive could not always be read by another. Plus the weekly backup wouldn't have the last two days' work anyway"

    I call Windows NT ... that was before I grew into proper operating systems

    1. AndrewDu

      Re: Windows NT

      Probably the same version where, if you wanted to set up a cluster, the disks all had to be the same make and model, the same size, the same speed, and the same firmware level.

      Such, such were the joys.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Windows NT

      I call HP DAT drives...

      1. toughluck

        Re: Windows NT

        ESDI was only in use until mid-nineties and by that time, the interfaces were finally pretty standard.

        I'd say this happened in late eighties which would make DDS/DAT unavailable yet (and believe it or not, DDS/DAT has a pretty good track record in terms of recoverable data).

        I call DLT or Data8. Although the latter format was fairly new in the time frame, it was already infamous for its crappy compatibility track record (pun intended).

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Windows NT

          "I call DLT or Data8."

          QIC

          1. toughluck

            Re: Windows NT

            QIC vanilla or QIC-MC (Maximum Crap)?

        2. Down not across

          Re: Windows NT

          I'd say this happened in late eighties which would make DDS/DAT unavailable yet (and believe it or not, DDS/DAT has a pretty good track record in terms of recoverable data).

          More likely to have been QIC.

          Perhaps I've been unlucky but I've found DDS utterly unreliable, whereas I've never had any issues with Exabyte 8mm drives. Having said that those were mostly EXB-8500/8505 drives. If you venture to the XL, you may start to experience slight loss in reliability especially if you're into reusing tapes more than once or twice as the 160m tape (obviously) has more of a tendency to stretch compared to the 112m.

          1. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

            Re: Windows NT

            I've heard the same thing many times. I've actually found DDS to be quite reliable, but with a major caveat.

            When our HP drive stopped reading the tapes it had written, I called support and was asked just how many hours a night I was running it? I answers 14, and was scornfully told that there was a 20% daily duty cycle limit on the heads. After that the heads would heat up enough to soften them and they'd experience excessive wear.

            I asked where I could find that in the manual... At which point he admitted it wasn't there. So I said, ok, I get warranty on this unit, and afterwards it's up to me to keep the wear down on the next unit, now that I'm informed.

            Next time we bought (non-HP) DDS drives I proactively asked about the duty cycle and was told 15%.

            So I very meticulously scheduled backups to limit the duty cycles, and after that the drives worked pretty well.

            If the manufacturers were not bothering to mention the little detail of the heads smoking after 3-5 hours of use, no wonder DDS has such a bad rep. I don't actually know if that's the case, I haven't exactly been doing surveys, but so far nobody I've talked to has admitted to knowing about the limit.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Windows NT

              Ok, let me hide behind my AC cape.

              There.

              Most LTO drives (and almost certainly not half-height drives) really don't have 24x7 operation capability at 100% duty cycle despite what it says in the spec sheet.

              Up to the point that there's a huge difference between 100% and 50%. The only reason they specify 100% is because they can get away with it as it's quoted in hourly intervals. So yes, you can run the drive at 100% duty cycle for an hour, but then you should really stop.

              If you want to write a whole tape length, which may take 8 hours, you should really consider dropping tape speed to 50% and ensure proper cooling.

              And if you really need 100% duty cycle, you seriously need to go for Oracle or IBM enterprise drives.

  10. Chris King Silver badge

    The joys of working on a rural campus...

    One year, I got dragged to help with an induction day, so I ended up manning the computer centre reception desk on a Saturday afternoon to deal with enquiries.

    A friend of humanity wanders in, hammer in one hand and a hand scythe in the other, looking totally out of it. Yep, definite whiff of strong weed in the air.

    Potheads wielding DIY/agricultural hardware usually spelt trouble with a capital TROUBLE, so "Hello, can I help you ?" rapidly turned into "DROP THE FUCKING TOOLS AND GET OUT !!!"

    Chummy ran off, leaving his toys behind. No idea what I did with the scythe, but I've still got the hammer somewhere.

    Needless to say, I was never asked to welcome poor lost ikkle firsties again.

    And there was much rejoicing.

  11. Valarian

    Not a Star Wars quote

    "You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th Century"

    That's Star Trek: First Contact. Picard introducing Lily to the ship.

  12. Frank N. Stein
    Flame

    Management

    Typical owner/management behavior. Payroll is the most important system, as it insures that staff as well as useless overpaid managers, get paid. One would be think management would appreciate them taking care of this, as they could've bailed and pointed those constructionworkers in the direction of the company owner. How would that have been?

    1. J. Cook Bronze badge

      Re: Management

      Hell, it's the first thing they (used) to teach new hires here:

      Job one is 'get paid'.

      a couple years ago we changed the system we used for tip reporting. the masses almost set the system analyst on fire due to the fact that the changes to how tips were cashed out were not communicated adequately. Fun times.

  13. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Yes, it's quite an experience to face an angry mob of some 200 people who feel they have to take issue with the project you are supposed to build.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have you dodged toxic substances to do a job?

    Have I?, I wake up some mornings wondering how the fsck I've managed to make it into middle age..

    An OTOMH list...

    Unshielded 'hot' Radioactive Sources? ..check

    Asbestos? ..check (many, many times...)

    Open containers of Sodium Cyanide which were balanced precariously next to various beakers containing various acids (just don't ask...) ..check

    Working right beside a bench heavily contaminated with shock sensitive picrate salts? ..check

    Working beside a metal cupboard containing several Kg of dried out Picric Acid..stored beside the Carbon Tet?...check (I should point out that this was beside the bench contaminated with the salts above..)

    Thallium? ..check (left on a windowsill beside a computer I had to visit on a number of occasions over a period of a couple of years..several large lumps, nicely oxidising away..no-one knew what it was.)

    Mercury? ..check (bottles of the stuff in unlocked cupboards, well over 10 litres total volume, mostly contaminated, mostly inappropriate bottles, some 'uncorked'..)

    PCBs..check (In the centre of London, mid-late 90's...200 litres of the stuff in an open container)

    Various nasty OP compounds? ..check

    Being in a sealed lab working on a computer when a 'fridge' right beside it decides to vent Nitrogen (the computer station being amusingly placed so that anyone sitting at it got the, umm, 'full benefit' of the event...ok, not toxic, but even so...) ..check

    Exposed to very high levels of SO₂? ..check

    Zinc Oxide fumes ? ..check

    Lyme and Weils diseases? ..check (Ok, not toxic per-se, but having to get yourself checked for ticks after fixing a computer issue isn't normal..as for the Weils...well, lets just say rats get everywhere)

    Laser dyes? ..check (Sloppy, sloppy 'housekeeping', hey they're only both toxic and carcinogenic..)

    And this was mostly IT work..exposed to all this (and, unfortunately, more, much, much more), yet a microscopic amount of egg can send me into anaphylaxis..on a bad day you'd almost swear that something, somewhere has a somewhat exceedingly warped sense of humour.

    1. Bitbeisser

      Re: Have you dodged toxic substances to do a job?

      What city department did you work for? "Parks and Recreation"?

  15. JQW

    I used to work for a Yorkshire based IT company who had customers all over the country.

    One week I was sent down to Sussex on a four-day course to cover an imminent new release of one of the systems we dealt with. On leaving the course on the final day to catch a train home, I was stopped at reception and told that there was a call from my office - this was before I had a mobile phone. Apparently one of our customers in the City of London had a problem with a server, and could I pop in to help out a hardware engineer who was having problems as he didn't understand our OS. Of course this meant that I would have problems getting home that evening, but I could stop at a salesman's house overnight.

    So I made my way to the station, and caught a train to London Bridge, and then made my way to the customer's office for an evening appointment. The hardware engineer seemed to be pretty clueless, as all he had to diagnose faults were tools on a floppy that he didn't understand. He was convinced that the fault was with the motherboard, and he would arrange for one to arrive at the office for him to fit the following morning. Could I be on the phone the following morning to guide him?

    So I headed off to call our salesman to arrange to stay the night in his spare room. I somehow managed to catch the last District Line train to his house to stay for a few hours, then on to catch the first train back to the office.

    Tired and exhausted, I make it into the office the following morning, and start talking to this engineer. It takes him hours to get the system working again. Then once fixed, it's obvious that he has somehow managed to wipe the server's RAID array in the process, so could I guide him through the process of re-installing the OS and restoring a backup? By this time it is about 5pm in the evening, and I've only had one sandwich to eat all day, and most of the staff from our office have already left for the pub.

    So I stay on the phone laboriously guiding him through the various steps to reinstall the operating system, which weren't that easy. The process was made a bit worse as we needed to install various patches to the server before we could attempt to recover from backup, and each one of these took some time. I remained in the office until about 10:20 that evening, caught the bus home, and then stayed on the phone to him until about 1am the following morning.

    As I'd been away from home for a week on the course, I had no food in, and by 1am there were not even any takeaways still open, even on a Friday. So I went to bed starving, and missed a local event I had planned on attending.

  16. Astara

    "Crisis is what I pay you for"

    Re: "This is what I pay you for"...

    Load of doodoo! That's what any trouble-shooter gets -- except when there is no trouble -- then they get "what have you been doing and why haven't I had status reports on your progress". I.e. if you organize things to run well, you are not appreciated when things run well -- only those who are seen as doing well in responding to a crisis are seen as performing "adequately".

    Motto: don't create good self-running policies and programs, but only those that create regular crises that you get credit for handling. Saw it at nearly every big company I worked for. No credit for things going well, only credit for when things don't go well and seen as hero in saving the day in the midst of a failure (that could have been prevented by a good plan -- but what's the point in that when such can get you axed as not being "useful")...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never a truer word has been said !!!

    Astara,

    Re: Your last comment.

    If only there was a way to keep the upvote button pressed for the next Century or two :)

    So true ...... learnt the hard way BUT I am unfortunately genetically incapable of creating the 'crappy' systems to keep looking good by rescuing the company at regular intervals. :(

    Got stabbed in the back by someone who could & still sleep at night.

    [Who was aided and abetted by a Manager who played similar games and was attracted to a like minded soul/'Equally duplicitous Git' :) ]

    Never did get the 'Office Politics & Greasy pole climbing' side of things sorted out. :) :)

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