back to article Hell desk thought PC fire report was a first-day-on-the-job prank

Welcome to another instalment of On-Call, The Register's last-day-of-the-week look at all the fun of fixing stuff. This week, we're going back to the first day on the job for reader “Jerome”, who like many readers got his start in IT on an in-house help hell desk. Jerome says he was properly trained and eased into the job by …

  1. 45RPM

    Yes, I have been involved in a PFY pranking. The PFY concerned was one of the suit, tie and briefcase type (opposed to the rest of us in jeans and t-shirt) and he was very proud of his company issue Rover 214 (which, in his mind, was very sporty). He'd turn up with a glint in his eye and a snap in his heel, the epitome of bright eyed and bushy tailed. Where the rest of us just grabbed a toolkit (necessary screwdrivers, install CDs, Floppys, spares and so forth), he'd carefully decant the bits he needed into his briefcase (a wholly unsuitable receptacle for the job). Had it been me, I'd have opened that case in a slovenly, can't be arsed, listery kind of fashion - but he always opened his case quickly and smartly like a door to door salesman.

    We thought it'd be a damn good idea to booby trap his case and then send him out on a job with a tame, and thoroughly briefed, client. The booby trapping consisted of strong elastic rigged to snap his case shut again just as quickly as he opened it, and the briefcase then filled with packing chips. Nice.

    A few hours later the client (Hello, Nige!) rang with a fit of the giggles. The plan had gone off without a hitch. PFY had turned up smartly, smarmed his way up to the supposedly ailing computer and (before checking to see if anything was really wrong with it - and nothing was) whipped open his briefcase- which snapped shut again in a blast of packing chips.

    We didn't see the briefcase very often afterwards.

    1. sabroni Silver badge
      Meh

      so..

      ...you bullied someone because you didn't like the way they dressed and behaved, eventually managing to make them buy a receptacle that you thought acceptable.

      That's one to boast about.

      1. joshimitsu

        Re: so..

        suitable toolbags were probably available on request, if not already sitting in a cupboard. Like those zip up folders with pouches for CDs, screwdrivers, pliers, etc.

      2. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: so..

        "That's one to boast about."

        Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned. If you make conspicuously zero effort to fit in somewhere, you really shouldn't be surprised when sooner or later this gets helpfully pointed out to you.

        1. sabroni Silver badge

          @ DropBear Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned.

          This had nothing to do with technical ability, it was about someone dressing too smartly for the cool kids and being a briefcase wanker.

          If I can write solid code and communicate effectively with the people I need to why the fuck should I have to dress like you?

          1. 45RPM

            Re: @ DropBear Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned.

            @sabroni "This had nothing to do with technical ability, it was about someone dressing too smartly for the cool kids and being a briefcase wanker.”

            Cool kids? You flatter us.

            Briefcase wanker? Yes, that’s right - because taking the piss out of his technical ability would have been pointless. He did that all on his own through sheer ineptitude. This is, after all, a man who cattle-prodded himself by attempting to service a PSU (I’d have thrown it away and replaced it with a new one, as per the service manual) - with the computer still plugged in and, astonishingly, whilst wearing an anti-static strap (which, as any fule no, is for operating on low voltage transistorised / microelectronic circuits only).

            You seem to be taking this a bit too much to heart though - I wonder, are you really Willsy?

            1. Phil W

              Re: @ DropBear Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned.

              "the computer still plugged in and, astonishingly, whilst wearing an anti-static strap"

              Let me guess, on his left wrist to make absolutely sure that if he got electrocuted the current would go through his heart and down his left arm, killing him?

              I think the important difference with your prank compared to say the one described above with soft cheese on a briefcase handle, is that there is no lasting effect from polysterene packing bursting out at you, where as soft cheese makes a mess of your hands and could stain your clothes and the leather of the briefcase. I think that is an important differentiation between pranks that are a light hearted joke and those that go to far, do they cause any unpleasant or lasting side effects?

              1. 45RPM

                Re: @ DropBear Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned.

                @Phil W

                I can't remember which wrist and, judging by the fact that he wasn't hospitalised (just shocked) I guess he tickled something at somewhat less than 230V / 3A.

                As to the lasting effects, I'd say that the client bore those - which is why we cleared it with him first. I imagine that he was probably still finding dispersed packing chips for a while afterward, but he didn't hold it against us.

                1. twsm

                  Re: @ DropBear Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned.

                  Volts jolt mAs' kill, an old saying so well less than 3A.

                  1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

                    Re: Volts jolt mAs' kill

                    That's true, but 230 volts falling on the 1M resistance of a wrist strap yields 230 microamps. Even skin damage does not make that life-threatening.

                    "One of the "rules of thumb" that the Navy teaches is the 1-10-100 rule of current. This rule states that 1mA of current through the human body can be felt, 10mA of current is sufficient to make muscles contract to the point where you cannot let go of a power source, and 100mA is sufficient to stop the heart."

                    www.darwinawards.com/darwin/darwin1999-50.html

              2. twsm

                Re: @ DropBear Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned.

                An anti-static wrist strap has a resistance of between 1 an 10 M ohms, so hardly likely to assist in him electrocuting himself.

                1. Kiwi Silver badge
                  Flame

                  Re: @ DropBear Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned.

                  An anti-static wrist strap has a resistance of between 1 an 10 M ohms, so hardly likely to assist in him electrocuting himself.

                  Don't bet your life on it.

            2. Kiwi Silver badge
              Alert

              Re: @ DropBear Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned.

              ...and, astonishingly, whilst wearing an anti-static strap (which, as any fule no, is for operating on low voltage transistorised / microelectronic circuits only).

              Ah.. the only time I ever hit someone at work (at least that I can recall). He wanted to run some tests on mains-powered stuff, and had the strap on his left wrist while holding probes etc in his right. Told him it was a serious risk, he told me his tutor showed him it was important for the safety of the devices as static can reach 10's of thousands of volts. Took a bit of swearing and a punch to the arm to get him to stop. He went off to complain to the boss, who told him I probably saved his life...

              For those uninitiated, the anti-static strap would've provided an excellent earth return should he accidentally touch anything live - a path that would lead the current across his chest (and therefore his heart) - ie the strap greatly increased his chances of a fatal electric shock. The rest of us worked with our left-hand (or right hand for lefty) in a pocket, lessening the chance of any return-path and certainly reducing the across-chest path. Don't know how well it would've worked as I only had one accident, EHT but negligible current. But boy did it shape how I play with electrics since!

          2. 45RPM

            Re: @ DropBear Respect in the tech sector isn't assumed - it's earned.

            @sabroni

            If I can write solid code and communicate effectively with the people I need to why the fuck should I have to dress like you?

            You shouldn’t. I don’t. But, equally, you should be able to take a bit of ribbing without having a hissy fit. But, in PFY’s case, he:

            couldn’t write solid code (no biggie - we were paid to install and service, not code)

            couldn’t service and could barely install properly

            couldn’t communicate without boasting about his prowess in his many fields of expertise

            …and, after all that, really was most deserving of a piss-taking. Frankly, he was lucky not to lose his job.

      3. Phil W

        Re: so..

        "...you bullied someone because you didn't like the way they dressed and behaved, eventually managing to make them buy a receptacle that you thought acceptable."

        While I see your point, only in our modern overly politically correct world would this been seen as bullying.

        In reality this team member dressing and behaving differently, even if that difference is smarter, actually makes the company look bad, rather than the opposite as you might expect. Jeans and t-shirts and an ordinary tool bag might not be an official uniform but if that is the normal practice in the business, rather than suit and tie and briefcase, some new guy turning up and dressing that way actually makes it look like the rest of the team are lazy and/or under dressed to an outsider.

        It's important to try and fit in, not just for you and your teammates but for the business to.

        Before anyone points out that if there's no uniform, some people may feel uncomfortable dressing so informally for work. There's always a middle ground, if not jeans and t-shirt, some smart trousers and a plain work shirt with no tie (frankly no one who is opening up electronic equipment routinely should wear a tie for work anyway, it's a danger unless you take it off all the time). Jacket optional.

        1. David Roberts Silver badge

          Re: so..

          Old enough to remember the time when we were advised to "dress down" from corporate style suit and tie to "smart casual" because tech contacts in industry weren't really taking us seriously as techies.

          Always a good idea to fit in and make your contacts feel you are "one of them" if you want peer respect.

        2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge
          WTF?

          This is a man's army with no room for cissies (or women or the ethnic persuasion).

          Wait, you mean it isn't? Not in any way? And we've been doing it wrong all this time? Oops.

          Awareness training? I suppose so then.

          1. 45RPM

            Re: This is a man's army with no room for cissies (or women or the ethnic persuasion).

            @Robert Carnegie “This is a man's army with no room for cissies (or women or the ethnic persuasion).”

            Remarkably, for the nineties, we had several women doing support and repair work - and they were amongst the best in the business. One was into extreme sports, and so definitely not a cissie, and another floored a bloke for pinching her bottom (so ditto). I sometimes wonder what they’re up to now - whatever it is they’ll be doing it hugely successfully.

            I don’t remember any ethic minorities, unfortunately, unless you count the scouser and the pole.

        3. Brangdon

          Re: so..

          If the business has a problem with the way he dresses, it should communicate that to him through channels. Not humiliate him in front of a client.

          1. Kiwi Silver badge
            Flame

            Re: so..

            If the business has a problem with the way he dresses, it should communicate that to him through channels. Not humiliate him in front of a client.

            When you have a young apprentice, fresh out of training, full of shit the confidence that only comes from having been to the best training provider money can buy and being right up on the absolute best and latest practices and methods, and just oh so much better than the old hats, then a bit of public humiliation can be the best thing for you. And in many cases, for the sake of the team/company, it's that or the DOLE queue.

            Have been there myself. Freshly trained and knew so much more than those who had been doing it for years. Also got a couple of "fun" (but minor, no scars) electrical burns because I did a job in the "safety-standard" way, not the way my experienced boss insisted I do it. Sometimes you can't tell people, you have to let them suffer embarrassment.

            In today's world the little lass would be off crying to their lawyers seeking millions in compensation for their humiliation and life-long psychological scars. Back then we took it in our stride, if necessary went home and changed pants/other clothing items, and thought about how we could do a revenge prank on others.. My best I think was a brake-line clamp on his fuel line when his wife rang about some serious emergency (she was in on it of course!), and the poor bugger spent a few hours trying to work out what was wrong on the side of the road on a wet afternoon with the knowledge his wife had threatened "true wifely nastiness" if he wasn't home soon... That or the snap,crackle&smoke generator fitted inside someone's very expensive just-paid-off-last-payday rear projection TV.. No damage to the unit, but the owner's pants didn't fare so well..

        4. PyroBrit

          Re: so.. Back to briefcase

          Many years ago I used to take a briefcase to work, partly because it was a birthday present from my parents and partly because it really was useful to carry my lunch and magazines to read. I also had quite a craving for cream cheese that comes in toothpaste style tubes and TUC biscuits.

          One day I was rushing to get away from work to go to the pub only to find that a couple of my colleagues had squeezed cream cheese onto the handle of the briefcase and place the handle back down flat so you could not see the cheese. You can image the mess when I grabbed the handle to have cheese squeezing out between my fingers.

          I of course arrived late to the pub and to much smirking and laughter from people around me. I know who you are even if at the time I did not acknowledge that I had been pranked.

          1. JimboSmith Silver badge

            Re: so.. Back to briefcase

            Oh I met someone who worked with a mate of mine doing sales and went off doing presentations to customers. He was Mr Clean and if you didn't look as smart as he though you could he would regularly chide people on their appearance. Not that anyone looked scruffy they just weren't up to his standards of perfection. He kept a pair of brushes a polishing cloth and shoe polish in the boot of his car, toothpaste toothbrush, bottled water and a towel in the glove box and in his desk.

            One April 1st the office decided to get him back for a year of comments that weren't always kind. Before he got in that morning they swapped out his normal toothpaste tube with one filled with Primula Cheese (http://www.primula.co.uk/our-range.html) waited for him to arrive. A few minutes after he'd started a coffee one of the comspirators came in and said they'd just seen the company's biggest client driving into the carpark. Mr Clean grabs his washbag and heads for the gents to clean his teeth and came out laughing as he'd worked out what day it was and what had happened.

        5. sabroni Silver badge

          Re: only in our modern overly politically correct world

          Expecting to be able to go to work in a shirt and trousers, with a briefcase!!! It's political correctness gone mad!!!!

        6. G7mzh

          Re: so..

          If the customer is expecting a technician, they will not be happy with someone who turns up looking like a bank clerk. The reason being, he won't be wanting to do any "proper" work - such as scrabbling on the floor or rummaging in dusty cupboards - for fear of getting his suit dirty.

          The possible exception to this is where the company supplies overalls, but I haven't seen that for a long time.

        7. Chris King Silver badge

          Re: so..

          "Before anyone points out that if there's no uniform, some people may feel uncomfortable dressing so informally for work. There's always a middle ground, if not jeans and t-shirt, some smart trousers and a plain work shirt with no tie (frankly no one who is opening up electronic equipment routinely should wear a tie for work anyway, it's a danger unless you take it off all the time). Jacket optional".

          Smart trousers and a plain shirt works for me - I can roll up my sleeves if I need to work on hardware, but I can put on a tie and "scrub up" if I need to deal with externals or VIP's. I've even got a pair of safety shoes that look like normal brogues, but still pack steel toecaps and mid-soles.

      4. 45RPM

        Re: so..

        @sabroni

        What is pranking if not taking the piss out of someone for something? If we’d beaten him up regularly, or picked on him endlessly then I’d see your point - but we didn’t, and so I think that you’re being rather oversensitive. Yes, he was (is) a bit of a tool in my opinion - but I’m sure that many think the same of me (and, equally, many hold me in rather higher regard).

        If you can’t find someone’s foible then you can’t take the piss out of them / prank them - luckily everyone has a foible to pick at. One of my foibles is my fondness for my classic cars (or, as my colleagues would have it, old bangers). This weakness of mine has been used to prank me, although none to any particularly great extent since I don’t mind having the piss taken* (on the contrary, I’d be worried if the piss wasn’t taken - I’d hate to have made so little impact that I was ignored). And since I’m not prone to throwing tantrums, or overreacting, I’m not a very entertaining target for a prank.

        * I went to boarding school. Can ya tell? You develop a thick skin quite quickly.

      5. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: so..

        Thereby saving him from a career in which he's laughed about by every other client.

      6. kiwimuso
        WTF?

        Re: so..

        @sabroni

        No mate, by any stretch of the imagination, this is definitely not bullying. It's a one off prank with a bit of tease thrown in.

        Have you never teased anybody in your life?

        Bullying, yet another word co-opted by the "offended on someone else's behalf" brigade for a different meaning, is repeated picking on someone. In other words harassment.

        So, that fact that you didn't like the way the correspondent behaved justifies you in criticizing him does it.

    2. Chris King Silver badge
      Mushroom

      What you really want are the tiny polystyrene balls that stick to everything with nothing more than a little static - not as evil as an envelope full of glitter, but you'll still be finding them for weeks afterwards.

      1. 45RPM

        @Chris King - we were pranking the PFY - not the client, who was a jolly good sport.

        1. Chris King Silver badge

          @45RPM - Don't worry, I got that. If the client was so sporting about it, I guess briefcase-boy must have annoyed them too ?

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Kids, nowadays...

        The annoying medium of choice is always chads. Not the hanging ones, only chads produced by the computer room card punch will do. We'll wait, while you go and check ...there should be a large, wastepaper basket size container full of them behind a panel in the machine.

        Got it? Good. The pointy edges make them impossible to sweep. They stick themseves into carpet very efficiently, and into clothing equally effectively. I know this, because we mixed them liberally into the contents of an annoying individual's dresser drawers at my university. He was still finding them the next year.

    3. Putters

      Very similar effect can be obtained by filling the victim's umbrella with the contents of the hole punch base ...

      A fellow lodger in my student days worked in a paper factory. Came out after one night shift to find his car interior entirely filled with the trimmings.

      1. Bodge99

        Please don't mess with these little bits of paper.. I know of someone who was pranked in this way... with a shower of hole punch "residue".

        He had to go to hospital to get one of the little paper circles removed from his eye.. It was stuck fast!!

        Not fun!

      2. herman Silver badge

        We filed a guy's entire cubicle with plastic popcorn packaging - put cling wrap over the 'door' to keep it in.

        1. peter_dtm

          @herman

          cling wrap (cling film) is meant to go under the seat and over the toilet bowl.....

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I bet the Rover 214 would be a better drive than most modern cars..

    5. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Many years ago, we had an engineer who thought he was a god.. major deity variety not minor. After a year of putting up with his crap, the rest of our department (just one of many in engineering) decided to give something back. There's a group of fatty oils that can have dye added to produce interesting results. In chickens (what it was developed for) it colored the yolks of the eggs for tracking purposes in research. In humans, it gets urinated out in full color. So... we got the red, green, and the blue. Early one Monday, the red goes into the lad's coffee cup. A hour so later, a terrible scream is emitted from the restroom.. the lad is pissing red. A few weeks later, he pissed green and then later still blue. At some point in time, he got the point and became less of a jackass.

    6. Florida1920

      I used to "over dress" for work, and got crap for it. Until the day they sacked the boss and I got the promotion. The rest of the department had a sudden change of attitude toward me then.

  2. DJ Smiley

    Can I turn it on? It's under 6 inches of water....

    Working for a hell-desk for a medium sized pharmacy firm (street facing shops) and I have a call from a concerned pharmacist. Their store had flooded overnight and was still about 6 inches deep in water but they were some how operating by hand anyway.

    So they asked if they could turn on the pharmacy computer, as some of the electrics had survived. I pondered this for a moment, then asked 'well is the computer wet?'. The answer, from someone who had done a number of years at university and was qualified to give me enough drugs to kill answered honestly 'well, it's on the floor so it's in the 6 inches of water, but I thought it might just work anyway?'

    Needless to say I told them not ot turn it on under any circumstances, and let us know once all the pluming was sorted so we could look at getting a tech out for the computers...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can I turn it on? It's under 6 inches of water....

      After a flood at work I got tasked to ensure none of the electrical devices we are responsible for are on the floor. This has now had the effect that IT computers will work with 40cm of water, management PCs will work with 2cm of water and the "Professionals" allowed us to put their computers on stands, but insisted that we not move the 4-bars that they keep on the floor.

      Whatever.

      1. Little Mouse

        Re: Can I turn it on? It's under 6 inches of water....

        Even with everything off the floor, I've seen the contents if a machine room written off after a flood from above, pouring through the ceiling.

        Nature will always find a way...

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Can I turn it on? It's under 6 inches of water....

          "Nature will always find a way..."

          Oh, the water just answers the distant call of the silicon in the electronics remembering the time when it was still sand on a beach, pining for the once-gentle embrace of the waves...

          "Come out, come out, let's play once more...!"

          1. PNGuinn
            Boffin

            Re: Can I turn it on? It's under 6 inches of water.... @ DropBear

            No, the silicon's just pinin' for the fiords.

            Nail it to its perch so it can't go for a swim and it'll be ok

            1. J. Cook Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Can I turn it on? It's under 6 inches of water.... @ DropBear

              Amusingly enough, one of the places I used to do service for was a commercial laundry. The computers on the inbound processing line where the cheapest machines we could get, and they were mounted on a 18 inch high stand, because they would have rusted to the floor otherwise when it was power-washed every night. (The machines still were nasty gross things that the techs hated to PM because odds were you'd need to change clothes afterwards. Ugh!)

        2. Korev Silver badge

          Re: Can I turn it on? It's under 6 inches of water....

          We used to have a crappy computer room which would leak sometimes; I tried to persuade my colleagues that we should "sell" the feature as a place to wash servers. Sadly my colleagues weren't up for the "rebrand".

          It all worked out nicely for me in the end though as the power & cooling capacity was transferred to our main room which meant I could massively expand "my" HPC cluster.

    2. Putters

      Re: Can I turn it on? It's under 6 inches of water....

      Or in one of our (ex) offices, by the server room being three floors below where the fire broke out.

      A lot of water was involved in putting out this : http://www.highrisefirefighting.co.uk/cstelstar.html

  3. Olivier2553 Silver badge

    Tossing water at electric fire

    Some years ago, our campus changed the outsourced company in charge of the logistics (gardening, security, maintenance, etc.)

    The new company deemed necessary to replace all the existing fire extinguishers (don't ask me why, the existing ones where still good, of the sealed type, so no leak).

    Anyway, we got nice and shinny new fire extinguisher, bright red and full of compressed water. I had quite a fight to get them replaced with ones that were computer compatible.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Tossing water at electric fire

      ...of the sealed type

      Well, there's your problem. The completely sealed units are not serviceable[1] and must be replaced when their time is up. I suspect that the previous outsourcers neglected to supply the purchase dates and inspection history of each unit to the new mob, forcing them to replace the lot.

      [1] Although they still have to be inspected annually. Presumably this is to keep someone in a job whose sole ability is being able to recognise a fire extinguisher.

      1. Chris King Silver badge

        Re: Tossing water at electric fire

        Surely they should have replaced like-for-like (assuming that the previous extinguishers at each location were of the correct type to begin with) ?

        This sounds more like "We've bought a job-lot of Class A extinguishers and we're too cheap to shell out for the other types".

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Tossing water at electric fire

        "Presumably this is to keep someone in a job whose sole ability is being able to recognise a fire extinguisher."

        It might be a good idea if that someone has the additional ability to recognise the correct fire extinguisher for the situation.

    2. Xamol
      Facepalm

      Re: Tossing water at electric fire

      Compressed water... nice trick if they managed it and they should be making lots of money from it.

      However, I think it's more likely that they compressed CO2 and used standard, uncompressed water.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Tossing water at electric fire

        Whoosh! The sound of compressed water being released.

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Tossing water at electric fire

      I remember having to point out to someone that CO2 was fine for a small enclosed kitchen, but that Halon was definitely a bad idea.

      The estates management people in our current office came around and re-did our extinguishers this year. There are only 2 rooms on the top floor, and I've now got 2 water and a CO2 extinguisher to play with. Which snazzy glow-in-the-dark tops on.

      Which would be great if they weren't all now stupidly painted red - so you can't tell them apart without looking closer. If they wanted to do that for visibility, they should have mandated a band of colour at the top - so you could easily tell the type.

      1. Spanners Silver badge
        Flame

        @I ain't Spartacus

        This is not the fault of your Estates Department, It's the law!

        Some professional suit wearer somewhere decided that it was confusing having 3 different colours - black red and cream for most office and domestic extinguishers. Just think of it as if they wanted to replace the 3 different foot pedals in our cars with just the one!

        Should you even have water extinguishers in your area?

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: @I ain't Spartacus

          I believe it's a (really stupid) EU directive, so come Brexit we can have our fire extinguishers back in black, blue, cream and red - as God intended.

          Not sure what colour whatever less ozone-unfriendly chemical passes for Halon these days should be tbough.

          My area only has some PCs and lots of paper files, so we've got the right stuff. I believe we have to have 3 because we don't have a fire escape on this floor, so we've got to be able to get down the stairs to the one below.

          Which incidentally leads into the stockroom of the rather expensive HiFi shop next door. I'm tempted to stage a small fire, and see if I can't liberate me some tasty speakers while "escaping".

          I know someone who's a retired skipper for Saudi Aramco. Or one of their more boat-y subsidiaries. Strangely enough when you captain a 200,000 supertanker, you get quite a lot of firefighting training. His rule is that the law can go hang - any extinguisher on his boat will be painted the proper colour - so it can be identified at a glance.

          1. The Indomitable Gall

            Re: @I ain't Spartacus

            " I believe it's a (really stupid) EU directive, so come Brexit we can have our fire extinguishers back in black, blue, cream and red - as God intended. "

            I agree that the old colour coding was better, but the problem was that the colours were not encoded in law. If we had had strong legislative protections before the EU directive came into force, we would have been exempt.

            But the EU directive was a very good thing, because before it you could make extinguishers any colour you liked. When I was doing fire safety training, the trainer asked the whole class to imagine walking into their local MacDonalds, you know, "shut your eyes, picture it" sort of thing. Where are the fire extinguishers? Everyone stopped. No-one could picture them. MacDonald's's standard interior design used chrome fire extinguishers that were designed to blend into the background, which meant if a fire did break out, you'd be unable to find one quick.

            Speaking of chromed fire extinguishers, these were also very popular on military bases. Because of restrictions on discipline, the only thing officers were allowed to do as a punishment was to assign domestic chores. Chrome fire extinguishers gave something particularly tedious: polishing. Do something wrong? Your job is polishing the fire extinguisher. Of course, the person who got the real punishment was the person who tried to use the extinguisher to put out a fire, because the polish was highly flammable!

            But yeah -- our own stupid fault for never actually having any bloody laws to stop the sort of stupidity above.

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: @I ain't Spartacus

              I'd forgotten that. I remember John Lewis had shiny chrome ones, to match the decor. As you say they're supposed to bloody stand out. That's the whole point.

          2. peter_dtm
            Flame

            Re: @I ain't Spartacus

            Sensible chap

            my training in the merch(ant navy) was to recognise extinguisher type with out needing to look (you automatically registered what was in the space you were in). I HATE red (water) fire extinguishers. the EU directive is beyond stupid.

            Though I did know an RAF type who used to demo how to put out avgas fires with standard 2 gallon water extinguishers.....(they re-ignite after about 20 seconds - gives you *just* enough time to get the hell out...)

      2. peter_dtm
        Mushroom

        Re: Tossing water at electric fire @I ain't Spartacus

        stupid EU directive

        can we go back to proper colour coded fire extinguishers now ?

  4. Esme

    Never been pranked

    It's evidently been more than my various colleagues lives have been worth (in their estimation) to prank me. Mwahahahah! Win!

  5. jake Silver badge

    Where I come from ...

    ... "PFY pranking" is called "the final exam". Not that the PFY knows it.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Where I come from ...

      The 'final exam' being to see if someone will suck up humiliation and not cause anyone any reverse humiliation. Like the hazing in fraternities and with squaddies, it's a test to see if you are willing to be mis-treated with a smile to show that you will not cause waves or be difficult.

      Make sure everyone is whacked with a paddle so you share the secret shame of being whacked with a paddle. It's good for bonding.

      1. JulieM Silver badge

        Re: Where I come from ...

        > The 'final exam' being to see if someone will suck up humiliation and not

        > cause anyone any reverse humiliation. Like the hazing in fraternities and

        > with squaddies, it's a test to see if you are willing to be mis-treated with a

        > smile to show that you will not cause waves or be difficult.

        Not at all! Passing the "final exam" with the highest grade requires pulling off a counter-prank against one's erstwhile teachers, thus demonstrating an ability to learn from the best and bring something new into the equation, along with a level of chutzpah that could be redirected to great effect. Forgiveness for which prank is contingent upon combining forces to pull off an even bigger prank against an even juicier target (and getting the first round in, when discussing this in the pub).

        Those who fail the "final exam" by displaying "willingness to be mistreated with a smile" may be subjected to continuous compulsory re-testing, until they either wise up or give up.

        And if you can't handle a bit of fun, there's no way in hell you could deal with lusers. It's a harsh world out there when you've nothing to survive on but your own wits, and the ability to stay one Google search ahead of the other person. Extreme stress calls for extreme relaxation .....

  6. DrAJS

    Day One Test

    When we I get a new PFY in I ask them to rebuild the OS on their computer from the DVD. The test is that I have disconnected the data cable from the back of the optical drive so although the tray pops out and the disc appears to load the computer can't see it.

    Gets 'em every time.

  7. Linker3000

    Metaphors

    One of my old bosses was known to use cheesy metaphors in every meeting and presentation. One day he stuck his head out of his office and, in a very casual manner, asked me to 'take a look' at his IBM PC-XT in about 10 mins as the 'whole lot has gone up in smoke' and he'd be out for a meeting.

    10 minutes later, I sauntered into his empty office to encounter a smoke-filled room and a big, melty, burnt hole in the top of his CGA colour ('Luxury!') monitor.

    Um..OK..

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: Metaphors

      Ahhhhh, so somebody had poured a load of graphite down the vents and stood back and waited. Seen that done in the monitor and PSU, most amusing.

      My favourite used to be changing the orientation of the PFYs mouse, it used to be set to 180% and if you change it by around 5 % a day they adapt and get on with things. When you have got them at the apogee and they are working in an impossible contorted position you then switch it back to normal in one fell swoop.

      It gets them every time, "it was alright yesterday" they say when in reality they had to twist their hand back on to the wrist and twist the shoulder and arm to use it.

      1. Linker3000

        Re: Metaphors

        From the same period, someone rang up to say that whenever they switched on their PC, the date had gone back to 1980. I told them that the PC's clock battery had probably gone. 'GONE!?' came the startled reply..'Who could have taken it!?"

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: Metaphors

          Once persuaded a psychology studying housemate in the days of dialup that they would get better signal if they massaged the line to help straighten it out, electron flow etc.

          They got half way down the stairs before they called me an arsehole. :)

          1. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: Metaphors

            People actually sell over-priced cables on the back of that sort of stuff - special insulating coating that helps the electrons flow more freely and that sort of rubbish.

          2. John R. Macdonald

            Re: Metaphors

            @triggerfish

            Pulled a similar prank in the same time frame on a particularly gullible luser by explaining the '0's could negotiate the curves in the phone line easily because of their roundish shape but that the '1's had a harder time flowing down the wire.

  8. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Not quite a helldesk

    but once we had a rainstorm of photo-developing chemicals come through the roof of the computer room. Don't remember it causing much damage but rather than move the chemicals to a lower floor so no-one would be overdeveloped without warning it was 'our fault' for not foreseeing the problem and fitting a swimming pool or something above the computers!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I see your fire and raise you...

    My all time favourite, posted as AC so I don't offend the people (yep, plural) involved was a call from a remote site saying there was smoke coming from the APC thing next to the server, the killer question was "What should we do?" - TURN IT OFF I yell. The smoke stopped, no flames, all is well apart from the kit being offline. So I advise we'll sort anothr unit and be there in a couple of hours, could be worse you're thinking, you're right, it could be. About an hour later another call from the site "We really needed to get some work done so we plugged it back in, but there is still smoke coming from it, what do we do?" - I advised unplug it again, and if they insist on plugging it in again after this call, then the number they're going to need is 999, the penny finally dropped.

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: I see your fire and raise you...

      "We really needed to get some work done so we plugged it back in, but there is still smoke coming from it, what do we do?"

      I've had one of those. Was in a factory during an electrical storm, when the office computer wasn't needed so I shut it down (before we had any protection on the system, boss couldn't see the need for a budget). Someone who thought they knew better than me couldn't wait 20 minutes for the storm to pass. Suffice to say, I had the budget to purchase the stuff I had suggested (small UPS and surge protectors for phone line) as well as a day at home in front of the TV and heater rebuilding the system, while Mr Fuckwit got a Christmas bonus that year minus cost of replacement machine and my labour...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Di I have to reach through the flames

    I was with our hellp desk many years ago when we got a call from a users at a small remote office who's monitor had burst into flames.. When we suggested she unplug it from the mains she actually asked if she had to put her hands through the flames.

    We had to ask her to sound the fire alarm and evacuate the office.

    Thankfully a fire warden with a CO2 extinguisher put out the mini conflagration before anyone was hurt.

    This lead to a re-issue of the note asking people not cover the vents on CRT monitors with paper and re-siting of electrical sockets where the same issue could occur.

    1. TomPhan

      Re: Di I have to reach through the flames

      When I had a user call in to say their terminal had smoke coming out of the back I passed them onto hardware support, it wasn't a software issue.

    2. Chris King Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Di I have to reach through the flames

      No matter how loud and painful to the ears a fire alarm can be, I've seen people behave in the most bizarre ways when they go off...

      One decided to shut his machine down, and waited for Windows to apply updates before heading to the assembly point.

      Another colleague decided to start a backup before evacuating.

      One even headed to the tea room and made himself a cuppa - and that was during a real emergency, not a drill.

      Me ? I'm leaping out and letting the place burn.

      If they're very lucky, I might hit the "lock screen" key combo first.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Okay so once upon a time I worked for a UK media business that was based in Central London. We had during the dotcom boom a plan to update and revamp our online offering quite substantially. To do this we hired some talented people and had our own kit separate from the main server rooms (by one floor) for work before it was installed elsewhere both in the building and elsewhere. A small room with good aircon was chosen for storing the now powered up equipment because it was one of the few places where the floor was reinforced enough to take the weight.

    We had a system for out of hours call outs, someone had written a small prog that alerted reception something had failed and they then called the out of hours mobile number. There was I think one call out in the first week when a cleaner switched off something by accident. So we get to the weekend and I'm on call phone rings and they say they're showing multiple failures. I got in (I was nearby) and found someone left the door open and things overheated and thermally cut out. This was during the summer so the aircon was working overtime and that had cut out too. I reset everything and went back shopping.

    Next weekend I was on call again and the same thing happened, had a call from reception multiple failures. I was a bit further away but I was able to get in quite quickly. This time the door's closed but the aircon is off and it's a far cooler day. Again I reset everything and go home and hear nothing all the rest of the weekend. This pattern continues for two more weeks when whoever is on call is phoned with multiple failures. This seems malicious now so I suggest locking the door, with the key being held on reception in the key safe for access if needed. Doesn't stop it though and the key has never left reception so it's a bit of a puzzle. We view the security camera footage and no one is seen near the door so very odd.

    The next weekend I'm the unlucky sod who will get the call and I realise from reviewing the call log on the phone that they're all coming in at roughly the same time ±5mins. It happens at around 6pm on the Saturday and I decide I'm going to catch whoever is doing it. I get in at 5pm get the key and unlock the door the plan being to wait for the micreant to come in and I'll surprise them. I take a book a chair and settle down all murder tv show style to wait for the handle to turn. At 17:30 there's no handle turning but mysteriously the aircon dies and the room starts to warm up. I start digging into the aircon panel options and discover that whilst there isn't an auto on time set, there is an auto off. No one (and certainly not the person who was given the responsibility) had bothered to check if the auto off was set because the auto on wasn't.

    The person concerned who was supposed to check was made the "voluntary" on call person for the rest of the time we had the kit on our floor. Then the week after it had gone to the main server room etc, this person was still in possession of the phone when they should have handed it back. As it was a weekend the boss called and asked reception to call him and say there were "multiple failures" showing again. They made it halfway in before realising that they'd been had.

  12. Paul2_munich

    I spent 3hrs with the in-house PC support a few years back, as they re-imaged a BSOD PC of mine, and chatted with the helpful help desk about the common problems, he had to deal with..

    ...No surprise but drinks spilled on laptops was a frequent occurence, and he went on to explain that in his experience the drink was crucial to the outcome.... Water was the least harmful, fizzy drinks the work, and in his experience the effect of coffee and tea on PCs depended on the amount of sugar and milk added... He believed that the free ions associated with adding notably sugar had more serious consequences than simple black tea or coffee.....

    He then told me the time that he put this theory to the test. A user had phoned and said that she had spilt coffee on her PC. The helpful help desk guy, then asked her if she took milk and sugar. The user replied "I don't want another f***ing coffee, I want you to fix my PC."

    I felt enormous sympathy for the team ever since - until they were all offshored a few weeks later..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There was a promo on Five Live that ran for a good while where the presenter mentioned (obviously live at the time) that she'd spilled her coffee on some equipment and the engineers had come in asked if it has sugar in which she'd thought was odd. I had to help someone in my family who had soaked their phone in a liquid and needed the info on it. They'd done the sensible thing of removing the battery (before calling me from a landline) but the liquid was very sugary and for that reason when I got there I suggested flushing it with distilled water before doing the bag of rice/silica gel trick. Looked at me like I was mad so I replied If you want your phone to work you're going to have to trust me. Phone worked fine afterwards Sadly he missed the word distilled the next time it happened, and left it too long in the sugary stuff and his new phone never recovered.

    2. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

      Back in the 1980s I managed to spill tea into the open top of my printer -- an old Centronics dot matrix printer with some fairly hefty motors. At the time I took my tea with milk and sugar. A friend helped me find replacement fuses, and advised me to carefully wash the electronics in water, not alcohol -- alcohol doesn't dissolve sugar.

      It really doesn't.

      The tip was a good one, the printer worked for several more years afterwards.

      Fast forward into the 1990s when I spilled a sugary drink into my keyboard at work. I went to IT for a replacement keyboard and talked to them about washing the old one; they said they always washed them with alcohol. I pointed out that didn't dissolve sugar, but took the replacement with me. At the time computer hardware was a bit more spendy than now, so there weren't a lot of spares hanging about; I didn't like the new one, so I took the old one apart, washed it with water, rinsed with alcohol (dries faster) and used compressed air to dry it. When I brought the replacement back they asked why, I said that I'd fixed my old one and didn't need the replacement. The response? "How did you do that? We can never get them to work again!" "That's because you wash them in alcohol!"

      I don't have a 100% success rate (last keyboard I dumped a sugary drink into works 99% -- for some reason I can't get the numpad + to work) but, generally speaking, washing with water > washing with alcohol. Once the contaminants are washed off, however, alcohol makes a good rinse. Best combined with disassembly so there are no trapped pockets of liquid. Take a photo of your keyboard before pulling off the keycaps, if you do that, so you know where they all go back. :)

  13. sisk Silver badge

    This story reminds me of a call I once got at work from my ex wife.

    "Yes dear?"

    "The power strip on my computer is smoking. What should I do?"

    "Seriously? Unplug it, get out of the house with the kids, and call the fire department and our landlord. In that order. Seconds count!"

    In the time it took her to call me, the shorted out power strip had been warped by the heat. Thankfully she got it unplugged before the flames melted all the way through and the plastic itself hadn't ignited yet. To this day I don't know why she called me first instead of the fire department.

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Flame

      To this day I don't know why she called me first instead of the fire department.

      I'd suggest it's probably because few people can comprehend how quickly a fire can grow, and even worse how quickly the fumes can make you unconscious.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Coffee is fine

    If you worry about coffee in your device, you obviously don't work in healthcare! We have much more interesting liquids...

    1. Captain Badmouth
      Happy

      Re: Coffee is fine

      You want a really interesting liquid? Try dried cat's piss.

      The wife's cousin had a cat that loved to sleep on her VCR, nice and warm. As it got old it became incontinent, as a result the VCR refused, one day, to function. Unaware of the reason for the failure and with no discernible smell, I took said m/c into work for a lunchtime inspection. On seeing the corrosion, I decided to re-solder the joints on the pcb - mass exodus, windows open etc. The air was blue : "WTF are you doing over there?"

      No amount of washing in anything could get rid of all the corrosion, it never did work properly afterwards.

      ( I know, dried cat's piss isn't a liquid.)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Joe, from Cleveland.

    Not really a prank at first, but we had a fictional user we'd test help desk employees with, 'Joe, from the Cleveland office'. One of the managers in another department would play Joe and call up to see how they handled him.

    'Joe' never had a ticket number, never had any of the information required to authenticate himself and always complained about non-issues. That, coupled with the fact he'd been the cause for any number of re-training sessions when policy was broken, the help desk grew to both recognize his voice and hate him with a passion.

    When the manager got promoted we stopped testing them that way, but that wasn't the end of it. Vacationing help desk employees were left urgent voicemails by 'Joe' while they were gone.

    'Joe' would also send useless Christmas gifts to the help desk staff. My personal favorite was the matching set of itchy sweaters, all bearing a $7 clearance tag and all at least one size too small, but he was proudest of the year he sent them mix CDs of the company hold music and not-quite enough little bottles of peppermint schnapps to go around.

  16. Unoriginal Handle

    One chap in my office used to come back after lunch and play a golf game on his MS-DOS (that's how far back it was) computer.

    As it was launched from the command line I renamed GOLF.EXE to something silly, and made a "GOLF.BAT" which 1) displayed a message saying company policy precluded playing of games, 2) displayed a message saying the hard disk would be wiped, 3) ran "CHKDSK /F" silently, to make the hard disk sound like it was working really hard.

    Cue the amusement when he came back from lunch, sat down, and inside about 15 seconds swore loudly and turned the computer off at the mains. He was the sort of individual who didn't react positively to having the piss taken.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Christmas Lottery

    Place I worked had a gift pool, where one would contribute a small, anonymous, gift and then at the christmas lunch event, everyone would play dice over the parcels.

    So, being a team player and all, one would be seen contributing an innocent gift first. Then one would pop down to the sex-shop for a more interesting one, wrap it up in innocent x-mas paper and secretly drop that into the pool also.

    It was alway a joy to watch the happy winner opening the pervy gift in font of everyone.

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