back to article Boss sent overpaid IT know-nothings home – until an ON switch proved elusive

Why look at that! The end of the working week is upon us, which means it’s time to dip into the mailbag to bring you another instalment of On-Call, The Register’s reader-contributed tales of tech support trauma. This week meet “Abraham” who was once “called in to move a big printer.” Abraham was a proper techie, not a …

  1. GlenP Silver badge

    Way Back...

    I'm not sure whether power sockets on PSUs just weren't very good but slightly unplugged power cables weren't that unusual. As first (and second and third, small company) line 'phone support you'd go through the rigmarole, including asking them to unplug the power lead and plug it back in, then if that failed try a different lead. We'd also warn them that if an engineer was called and it turned out to just be an unplugged lead they would be charged. It's amazing how often the engineers found the power cables almost hanging out of the sockets.

    The software I was supporting was sensitive to unexpected power downs. I had one user insisting that no, there was no way the computer had been turned off, however the symptoms said otherwise. An hour or so later I had an apologetic phone call, her boss had accidentally turned the computer off and switched it back on hoping nobody would notice*!

    *No logins on PCs in those days, they were set up to boot straight in to the software.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Way Back...

      yep, still happens daily!

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Way Back...

      Yeah I had at least a couple of clients who either had "no need" or a lack of understanding regarding power cables/power switch. The "best" client I remember from back when I was freelance had a new computer in their home office. I was asked to go round and set everything up including the scanner, router, mouse etc. I was also asked to install some software. Almost finished I told them that I was going to go for a very late lunch and when I got back I'd finish everything. Just reached the local sandwich shop and I had a text "the computer isn't working get back immediately." I returned with some haste and discovered that the computer was working fine no issue with that. They were unable to use the Internet though and the router on the other hand was now devoid of any lights, it had been functioning fine before I left.

      It was still plugged in so the mystery deepened. After a few minutes I asked if they'd changed anything because I couldn't find the fault. Denials all round and much complaining whilst I'm told that the power obviously isn't an issue because the light is plugged into the other socket. To demonstrate this point as it was starting to get darker outside someone flicked one of the the light switches by the door. The desk lamp came on and the router also sprang back into life, it dawned on me that the power socket was controlled by the light switch. Amazingly no one had thought to mention the fact that that double socket was independently controlled by the light switch before. They found it much easier and they were far more comfortable just blaming me. "I wasn't aware it needed electricity though you never mentioned that." I was given an apology and lunch with drinks in the local pub.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Way Back...

        "I was given an apology and lunch with drinks in the local pub."

        The power socket controlled by a light switch? I might have gone to the pub for lunch and drinks but not gone back to the house afterwards.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Way Back...

          This is required in New York by code. At least one socket must be controlled by a switch in each room because there is no requirement that the room be fitted with light fixtures.

          You guys need to get out more.

          1. Jean Le PHARMACIEN

            Re: Way Back...

            I have one of these sockets in my house in 'New York code' involved though (Statue of Liberty excluded)

            Unfortunately said socket is under the stairs furthest away from where any sane person would put ..say a lamp (nearest socket for that is not 'room switch controlled) . It is, however, very conveniently close to my UPS / Comms cabinet. Needless to say there is a long cable top a lamp standard and an equally long cable in the opposite direction feeding the the UPS ('onduleur') ...

            "Vive La France!"

            1. macjules Silver badge

              Re: Way Back...

              Urgh, French electrics. There does not seem to be any standards for wire colouring in France at all: I have regularly changed light switches or power sockets only to find that the Blue wire is Live and the red wire is Earth, or the black wire is Neutral and the green wire is Live.

              As they say, "Vive la Différence"

              1. Piro

                Re: Way Back...

                I'm always surprised to see how relatively poor installations are in the rest of Europe compared to the UK. Odd.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Way Back...

            "This is required in New York by code."

            It's relatively common in the USA and rare as rocking-horse shit in the rest of the world.

            1. Soruk

              Re: Way Back...

              The opposite is quite common in China. Sockets with switches, where the socket is permanently live and the switch operates a light.

              Of course, the socket can be wired through the switch, but it's not guaranteed, even varying from socket to socket in the same house.

            2. Stork Bronze badge

              Re: Way Back...

              Not that rare. I have come across it in Portugal

          3. Cpt Blue Bear

            Re: Way Back...

            "This is required in New York by code. At least one socket must be controlled by a switch in each room because there is no requirement that the room be fitted with light fixtures."


            Thank you for solving a mystery that has been with me for 20 years. Coming from Oz, where every mains socket has to have its own switch, I had assumed it was a cheapskate measure to save a few bucks on switches. If it had been in a private home rather than a hotel I would have assumed it was the work of an amateur electrician (my Grandad was one and not one light switch in his house worked as expected).

        2. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: Way Back...

          The power socket controlled by a light switch? I might have gone to the pub for lunch and drinks but not gone back to the house afterwards.

          There's nothing wrong with a socket controlled by a light switch I've got a lighting circuit in my living room that does just that. In this case it was intended to be used for the desk lamps and not kit that was supposed to stay on. Had I known that beforehand I wouldn't have used that socket.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Way Back...

            That's why they still sell the 5amp round pin sockets and plugs in the UK. Makes it obvious that it's NOT a regular power outlet.

            1. Harman Mogul

              Re: Way Back...

              Yup, got some of them in my home

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Way Back...

              " Makes it obvious that it's NOT a regular power outlet."

              That's the rub. If there was a regulation colour for these sockets, or even if someone had the foresight to _label_ them a lot of angst would be saved.

              On a slightly larger scale version of this, about 25 years ago I solved a similar problem which had been flummoxing our staff for years. A site was reporting critical equipment (radio-operated phone system long before the days of mobiles) failing over the weekend and when we got out on site it was always working perfectly. As it was a safety requirement needed to talk between the customer's base and ships anchored about a mile offshore taking their bulk product (titanium ore) it was causing major problems and the faults were becoming more frequent.

              The site was about 100 miles from base, so callouts were difficult and the customer wasn't willing to pay callout charges in any case for what they felt was our problem.

              One friday evening, I'd finished late at a remote site about 200 miles from base and was heading home when a call came in that this site had just reported a fault and as i was about to pass it, would I call in and see what's up?

              Late on a summer's night (10pm sunset) is spooky on an ironsands mining barge when everything's shut down, but once on board I made my way to our equipment cabinet to find what was apparently a power supply failure. 5 minutes of prodding and poking later established that the dedicated socket installed and labelled for the equipment ("Do not turn off at any time") was dead and further prodding/tracing revealed that the socket was wired back to the "Non-essential" power cabinet - and had been since our equipment was installed 20 years earlier.

              Guess what happened at 5:30pm every night? The hint's in the name "Non-essential power"

              Thankfully there was a live socket about 2 metres away, so phone service to the ship visible on the horizon was quickly reestablished. The following week someone went out and replaced the lead-acid battery in our cabinet which proved to be thoroughly trashed. 20 years of being discharged overnight every night and deep discharged every weekend/public holiday had taken its toll and it was lasting about 15-20 minutes at best. I don't know if the dedicated socket was ever rewired to the correct power cabinet or whether the short extension cable to the essential outlet was left in place.

              Checking the installation documentation it was clear that the customer had signed off on the requirement that our kit was on an "essential" power feed and that over the years they'd verified it wasn't connected to the non-essential power when we asked them to double check. (The plug was labelled as "essential power, do not switch off", but the circuit label on the socket was in site convention for their non-essential stuff(*) and we verified it actually went back to the breaker it said it did)

              (*) Site caretaker electrician "That's a non-essential circuit designation, they get switched off at 5:30" - to which my response was "It's supposed to be on essential power, we're going to have to verify this"

              The customer got a report. They still complained about the length of time that it'd taken to diagnose the fault, despite the fact that due to the nature of the power "failure" (and the responses of their supposedly qualified day electricians) the problem could only have ever been diagnosed onsite at the time it was happening. I was the first out-of-hours visitor _ever_ and they'd been the ones to refuse out of hours callouts due to the charges they'd incur. The only reason I was there was because they called it in whilst someone was still in the office _and_ someone was in the area who knew the site (it was regarded as dangerous due to the bailey bridge used to access the barge, so going there needed a familiarisation trip) and it had such a long and frustrating history of "no fault found".

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Way Back...

                "about 25 years ago (radio-operated phone system long before the days of mobiles)"

                My DynaTAC is a couple months shy of its 35th birthday.

                (No, I didn't purchase it new. The company I worked for did. About 8 of us were presented with one, and a couple spare batteries/chargers, and told that we were to stay connected 24/7 ... at which point we all said "more money, please". With threats of quitting en masse. The company finally agreed, and we were compensated the princely sum of $1.75 for each hour of "out of the office" on-call hours. Doesn't sound like a lot today, but in 1985 $11K/yr wasn't chump-change. Especially for essentially doing nothing. I was allowed to keep the thing when the company "retired" them a couple of years later.)

                1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                  Re: Way Back...

                  > "about 25 years ago (radio-operated phone system long before the days of mobiles)"


                  > My DynaTAC is a couple months shy of its 35th birthday.

                  You missed the part further down where I explained it'd been installed for 20 years.

                  At the time I finally diagnosed it, mobile service in that country had only been up and running for about 5 years and only in major cities. As soon as it activated in the area (about 6 months after my visit - the site visit I was coming back from at the time was part of commissioning the AMPS system), the old clunky single channel VHF phone system was dumped and the ships were given mobiles.

                  Thinking back, it was '88-89, so closer to 30 years than 25.

              2. jake Silver badge

                Re: Way Back...

                "If there was a regulation colour for these sockets, or even if someone had the foresight to _label_ them a lot of angst would be saved."

                The switched plug(s) is/are supposed to be mounted upside down. Easy to see in a 3-prong (grounded) socket, but a trifle harder to notice in a 2-prong polarized socket.

                1. albegadeep

                  Re: Way Back...

                  "The switched plug(s) is/are supposed to be mounted upside down."

                  Where do they do that? In my part of the US, there's no rule about which way is up! Most houses '90 and older are smiley-face orientation for all outlets (ground pin down), but more recent ones are sometimes ground-pin-up. Wiring the garage, I specifically researched this topic; apparently it's electrician's preference here. Switched outlets are not uncommon, are almost never marked, and can be either both outlets switched or just one.

                2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                  Re: Way Back...

                  The switched plug(s) is/are supposed to be mounted upside down.

                  Citation? My code books don't agree. Admittedly, they're somewhat old, and (in the US) local codes often supersede the National Electric Code1, but I've never heard of this rule.

                  One book I have, Wiring under the National Electric Code, suggests that electricians often wire grounded outlets with the ground pin at the top so that if a plug is not fully seated and something (e.g. a loose metal box cover) drops onto the pins, it will rest on the ground pin and not come into contact with the hot. That situation seems unlikely to me, but not impossible. In any case, the author was unable to find any other argument in favor of the practice, except legend and custom.

                  Conversely, I've seen licensed electricians recommending that switched outlets be marked by writing "S" on them in permanent marker (between the holes), which rather suggests that there is no code-sanctioned way of indicating them.

                  1Which isn't "national" in any sense except that it's promulgated by the National Fire Protection Association, a private trade body. It's widely adopted by state and municipal jurisdictions in the US, though, albeit with variations.

            3. Martin-73 Silver badge

              Re: Way Back...

              Originally they used the 2 amp ones, each estimated as 1/2 amp draw (2x60w bulbs at 240v) so you were allowed 10 of them on a 5 amp circuit... That was back in the 40s.

              Have been bitten by the outlet switched by the lightswitch rigmarole in the US before.... using the same outlets for both is bloody minded. They could at least LABEL them

              1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

                Re: Way Back...


                I thought that few people could beat my 'old fogey' rants of 'This is how we used to do it in the '50s (very late 50s!).

                But to have someone referencing the 1940s...... Well Done!!!

              2. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Way Back...

                "using the same outlets for both is bloody minded."

                I've run into US double wall outlets outlets where one is on the light switch and one is not.

                Talk about mindfuckery.

                1. Fatman Silver badge

                  Re: Way Back...

                  <quote>Talk about mindfuckery.</quote>

                  Once, back some 30 years ago when I was a sparky, I was wiring a custom built home, and the owner wanted to ability to convert any bedroom outlet into a 'switched one'.

                  My helper (assistant) stated that it can't be done.

                  I knew better, and told that yoof to pay attention.

                  From the wall switch, I ran a 3 wire (plus ground - earth for you on the other side of the pond) from the swicth to the first outlet, and then from there looping to each outlet in the room. In the USofA, three wire cable colors are green - ground (earth), white - neutral, black (usually the """hot""" wire) and red - which is what I used for the switched outlet. I then called in the owners and laid it out for them. All outlets get both the green and white wires, the green one going to the green terminal on the outlet, and the white one to the silver terminal. Now, if you want the entire outlet hot, connect the black wire to the brass colored terminal and cap off the red; if you want the entire outlet switched, then connect the red wire to the brass colored terminal and cap off the black.

                  Only if you want one half hot and the other half switched, must you break the tab that joins the two halves together, and put the black one on the half you want hot all of the time, and the red on the half that you want switched. Each outlet can be set up independently of the others, but all switched outlets are controlled by the wall switch. I even drew a diagram for them.

                  Yoof was impressed. He had only seen the way switch controlled outlets were done with running a two wire cable from the switched outlet to the wall switch (one of the two wires being hot and the other one being the switched return.

                  For his education, I made him pay for drinks on the way home.

                  1. Stevie Silver badge

                    Re: In the USofA, three wire cable colors are

                    green - ground (earth), white - neutral, black (usually the """hot""" wire) and red

                    Maybe in *your* part of the USA.

                    In mine they are white, red, black and unclad (ooer missus).

                    For them out of the know one uses such wire to cable an electric cooker. The electric supply to the house is on two "phases" - sides of a center tapped pole-pig in reality, call 'em "up" and "down". Your breaker box has twin lines of breakers (or places to put them) and they alternate up-down-up-down as you descend each line (in NY). A 220v breaker straddles two slots. Your unclad/green wire goes to the box frame as your ground. Your white goes to the center tap as your "neutral" (NY code does not use the term) and the red and black are connected to the up and down live. So now you have red-black giving you 220v to power the burners, and black-white giving you the 110v for the oven light.

                    Unless you have bought your house from a miserable bodger who used three (aka four) wire cable for two (aka three) wire cable jobs, which means every wiring job is a voyage of discovery and pants wetting as you try and figure out whether the red wire is actually doing a) anything and 2) what it was color coded for.

                    Many years ago I was going to surprise my wife by installing a laundry room while she was visiting friends for a few days. I read the code carefully (being from the UK I was confident but properly nervous about differences in taming-the-volts approach). "Every grounding electrode must have its own space in the ground connector bar" it said. I opened the breaker box, unfastened the breaker panel and swung it out, and a rat's nest of wire tumbled out at me. Clearly the last electrician to muck about in there had been lax about code best practices. But there was worse horror to come.

                    Once the dangly wires were all dragged out of theater, I could see the ground bar, with every position crammed with three or four wires under the securing screws. Luckily I had a spare bar and room on the mount to install it, but I still ended up having to leave some wires sharing - albeit only two wires per position.

                    Feeling good about having made things better I looked closely at the wire tangle, and then saw that there was a red wire just dangling free. So I spent an afternoon confirming that Mr Sparksen-Flashen had just used the wrong cable type for the job at hand and the red wire hadn't simply snapped off its breaker with age/poor installation procedures.

                    Then I moved a breaker and I don't want to talk about the chaos that caused any more.

                2. Jtom Bronze badge

                  Re: Way Back...

                  Not unusual. My living room has two of them. The switched sockets are for table lamps, while they unswitched halves are for clocks, TVs, whatever. They are a pain to work on, though, and you need to make sure power is off to both halves before tinkering with them.

                  The switches, themselves, come made so you can have separate powering to each socket.

                3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                  Re: Way Back...

                  I've run into US double wall outlets outlets where one is on the light switch and one is not.

                  Quite common. Standard duplex receptacles in the US have breakaway bridge tabs between the two outlets so that they can be separated and wired individually, for just this purpose.

                  Many electricians frown on it, but code allows it, at least the last I checked.

            4. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Re: Way Back...

              That's why they still sell the 5amp round pin sockets and plugs in the UK. Makes it obvious that it's NOT a regular power outlet.

              Yes, the expectation of many people (in the UK) that you can draw 2x13A from a double socket(*) and I bet it'd not be long before someone plugged a heater into a socket designed for a lamp and running from the lighting circuit. I realise that some other countries don't traditionally have separate lighting and power circuits in a room.

              It's also quite easy to see some DIY dimwit deciding to use a light switch in the standard sockets circuit which (again, in the UK) will be fused at a minimum of 16A, quite possibly 20A or 32A (if a ring). Light switches in the UK are rated to 10 Amps at best and some cheaper ones are still 6A only (10A as "normal" has only really happened in the last few years).


              (*)It's a common misconception that you can't draw the full 26A from a double socket, usually explained as being a limitation in the design of the socket itself. On a 32A circuit it is eminently possible to draw 26A and unless it's a very cheap brand you shouldn't have any problems. There are three considerations though. Firstly, if the socket is on an "unfused spur" from a 32A ring circuit, it will be run using the same 2.5mm2 cable, which is only good for 27A under ideal installation circumstances and could have a capacity of 20A under some installation conditions. Secondly, the design of a ring circuit relies to a large extent on current flowing both ways around the ring. If the ring is large and the socket in question is closer to one "end" than the other, this may not be the case and it's possible to overload the shorter arm of the ring.

              Lastly, 16A / 20A radial circuits are common even in the UK :-)

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Way Back...

                As a new sysadmin at a site I found several servers in a rack running from two 4-gangs in series which was quickly replaced. Before I shut down I first had to repair the backups. The power down was quite nerve racking.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Way Back...

      "slightly unplugged power cables weren't that unusual."

      Not just on PeeCees and still a thing today.

      Supposedly technically competent users (even actual technicians) put them in so they're (barely) working and don't give them a good hard shove to get that last 3-5mm home. Result being an intermittent connection.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Way Back...

      RE: light switch on a power outlet...

      On a related note, the old 'National Technical Schools' TV repair correspondence course included some basic notes on house calls. In that chapter they pretty much pointed out that (more often than not) the TV will get unplugged so that someone can plug in a vacuum cleaner, and then be 'left that way' followed by a house call of "my TV is broken". This apparently happened so often that TV repair people basically needed to impose a 'minimum charge' just to show up or they'd invariably be giving time away for 'yet another pointless house call'.

      Additionally, the U.S. Navy Electronics Technician school has you always begin your troubleshooting by making sure the equipment is correctly powered up by examining the input fuses [which light up when the fuse blows] and making sure that the "O.N./O.F.F." switch is in the "O.N." position (and the equipment is plugged in and the outlet energized, if that is part of the equation). Because "power supply" is one of the most common reasons for failure. [they also had you basically 'play with the equipment' and put it into 'test mode' and observe what happens before opening up and doing measurements, etc. because in a lot of cases, doing 'test mode' like that narrows the cause of the problem pretty fast].

      1. JohnBoyNC

        Re: Way Back...

        US Navy ET (Electronics Technician) school (and BE&E prior to--that's Basic Electronics and Electricity training) have stood me in good stead over the years.

        It still pisses off the Missus when I ask her "is it plugged in/turned on?" after 44 yrs of marriage. And she still thinks it's lame that I ask her "when's the last time your PC/laptop/tablet/phone was rebooted?" when the object is acting flaky.

        Non-techies have no idea how many times those two questions (and their answers) magically fixes things.

  2. Tom Watson 1

    Happy Endings at work

    Are frowned upon in Asia

    1. Symon Silver badge

      Re: Happy Endings at work

      Not just Asia.

      Mildly NSFW.

    2. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Happy Endings at work

      They're also frowned upon by me in Prague, when you go in to a massage parlour as a teen and you've no idea what a "happy ending" is.

      Imagine my surprise when the lovely masseuse started massaging part of my anatomy that I didn't know could be massaged in such a prim and proper establishment.

      1. frank ly Silver badge

        Re: Happy Endings at work

        When she asked you why the juice wasn't flowing, did you tell her to plug it in?

    3. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Happy Endings at work

      On a trip to Poland I sat next to a nervous flyer who explained this to me in great detail. He said on one business trip elsewhere he'd had a longer flight ahead of him. A friend had suggested getting a massage once he arrived to get rid of some of the tension. So he'd asked a colleague who knew the city well if he knew of a masseuse who visited hotels. Needless to say the lady who turned up offered "other services" with "Happy Endings" and the hotel security didn't think very much of her. When he found out he he was very embarrassed having to explain that he really only wanted a massage. The hotel had a masseuse in their Spa who as well as being cheaper was also qualified. He hired her and felt both the tension and embarrassment melt away.

      Said he gave his happily married colleague some funny looks when he got back.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Angry client rolled over the Ethernet patch cable with his office chair

    Reminds me of a similar situation. Basically, the angry client rolled over the vital Ethernet patch cable with his office chair. The cable defect resulted in weird packet loss, but "almost everything worked" - "only your HTTPS site doesn't work". Everyone was accused, and in the end after days of checking and debugging all software, hardware and infrastructure, the slightly defective cable was found and replaced.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Angry client rolled over the Ethernet patch cable with his office chair

      Why was a patch cable unprotected in a situation where it could be rolled over - or tripped over? Sometimes elfin safety have a point.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Angry client rolled over the Ethernet patch cable with his office chair

        elfin safety have a point

        Especially in an ork-place.

        (And it's usually lots of small, fast-moving points. Attached to wooden sticks and propelled by a device incorporating wood and some exotic string..)

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Especially in an ork-place.

          That's warg place. At least round here it is.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Angry client rolled over the Ethernet patch cable with his office chair

          "Especially in an ork-place."

          You have to watch the elfins around the Cow-orkers

      2. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Angry client rolled over the Ethernet patch cable with his office chair

        Why was a patch cable unprotected in a situation where it could be rolled over - or tripped over?

        Because often IT has no control over facilities or someone's personal office or very bad building design such as one port on the wrong wall 15ft away behind something heavy and awkward and no budget for proper cable and covers.

        1. Trygve Henriksen

          Re: Angry client rolled over the Ethernet patch cable with his office chair

          That's what Hot-melt glue and duct tape is for...

      3. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Angry client rolled over the Ethernet patch cable with his office chair

        Elfin safety often dont work in Grade1 listed buildings which are lovely to work in but near impossible to add ducting too, both legally and physically. I worked in one 14thC place where you could just about get the cable down the gap between the oak floorboards but a couple of foot were on the floor and we had to cut the lever thingy off the etherrnet plug so it would come out easily rather than send the tripee flying. We tried those cable covers your can get but they just flipped the wheelie chairs during races and getting things from the printer without getting up.

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Angry client rolled over the Ethernet patch cable with his office chair

          I worked in an Listed Building and we used sticky pad clippy things to "clip" the network cables along unintrusive bits of wall. The electrics, however, had been put in about 50 years before it was listed.

  4. Mycho Silver badge

    Why to be patient with idiots

    There is no point getting upset over somebody who is inevitably going to kick his own arse through sheer stupidity before long.

    Much better to stay calm and eat out on the stories.

  5. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    Was the boss Billy Connoly?

    Because if it was he got one of his best routines out of it.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The manager had formed that opinion after reading consumer technology magazines that left him convinced that he knew all about IT and that pros knew far too little to justify their pay packets. Or even their existence."

    Do many times did I notice this behaviour ... Yet, every time, those people end up changing their opinions ... or at least, be ridiculous about it ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A lot of people read techie magazines. Most realise that it's never as easy as they say and that you still need some training by someone who's been there and done it first. And that it's not a good idea to assume you can do something until you've had a go ( in preferably a safe environment like a spare device). There are plenty of us semi-trained part time techies out there. There has to be in small organisations with too little proper IT support. The good ones know their limits and have a good relationship with a full time person in the organisation who can do the tricky stuff or talk them through a new procedure. I knew a good few who went on to full time IT jobs on the back of this too, hopefully with some more training.

      That being said. I still have nightmares about the supposed pro who came to our service from the town hall IT dept. to install our first laser printer. Black powder everywhere. Him borrowing the vacuum cleaner and prodding it inside the machine. Then a few weeks later explaining that the drum had come to the end of its life and we had to buy a new one out of our budget. Nothing to do with his maltreatment or the considerable amount of light exposure of course.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Even if you know what you're doing toner sometimes just hates you.... (think pulling a cartridge and having a corner shatter.... nice fetching shade of magenta for the rest of the day..).

        Old HP LaserJet though, they just used to run and run (worked in a place where we stock piled them off eBay for parts. We had some with the roller gears so badly worn on both sides from over use. But then that machine had clocked over 1,000,000 prints so give it some credit)...

        As for the toner drum... that was the only reason they started to move to newer printers. HP stopped making the toner drums so once they wore out no more working printer (usually they'd last about a year before the coating wore through).

        It's amazing what skills you pick up trying to save other people money sometimes.

        1. gryphon

          Saw a couple of HP LaserJet 3SI's with I think 3 million plus copies and still going strong once.

          Those things were pretty much bulletproof as long as the feed rollers got changed regularly.

          1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

            These were a combination of 5's and 5m's. Just had to remeber to clean the laser every couple of years too as that occasionally causes streaks if left.

            Lots of parts where replaceable when they wore out or at least you could try and fix it yourself first (roughing up pickups and rollers were required too). And a chassis strong enough to stand on.. (seriously I dare you to find any other printer you'd try that and not have it break)

            They really don't make them like that any more.

            1. Mark 85 Silver badge

              They really don't make them like that any more.

              But if they did, they wouldn't be selling printers anymore only the overpriced ink. But people want the latest shiny so planned obsolescence leads to more profits.

            2. ChrisBedford

              They really don't make them like that any more.

              Uh no, TG they don't make them that expensive any more.

              There's always lots of discussion around how wasteful it is to replace rather than repair, but for the price of say a LaserJet 2000 - especially given inflation adjusted money - you can easily buy 10 years' worth of this month's model, with toner replacements.

            3. Lindsay T

              You can stand on a Dell 1710 (rebadged Lexmark I think) as well. Company I worked for threw them out ten years ago after many years as they had come the end of their useful life. I bought one for next to nothing and it is still going strong.

          2. J. Cook Silver badge

            Ah, the 3si and 4si...

            Those beasts were good for at least 4 mil. then you overhauled then with a new gear train and some of the other major componants, and it'll be good for another 4 mil...

            [RedactedCo] had some 4250's with about two mil on their counters when I started working there back in 2006- they ran upwards of 200K a month through those poor things.

            1. I3N

              Re: Ah, the 3si and 4si...

              sorely miss my 5si ... tricked out with memory and paper trays and JetDirect card...

              worked all weekend for it by putting together 10 pc's when 'their' support said they didn't want to go to jail for procurement issues ...

              [never was a problem, and do have an honorable mention in the GAO report to Congress over buying from a site that used a credit card billing company who had less than desirable customers ... bought a software package that calculated head pressure for water flow ... sponsor did an ship alt and now needed coverage to do it again]

              delivered them on Sunday in the conference room ... oh the gripes when Monday morning's meeting had to move them ... also for not loading extra special drivers [my response: user if you want that, you have the disks]

              printer went into local repair shop and never saw it again.

          3. Trygve Henriksen

            We retired one 4Si after 750.000, without any service at all.

            Not because it didn't work, but because we no longer needed it.

        2. Trygve Henriksen

          If they were LJ II & III then the reason the wheels were worn down is that those printers were slow, and the users impatient, and they tended to DRAG the last of the sheet out of the printer.

          Trust me, I KNOW this.

          Nothing else could kill these beasts.

          (That goes for the Canons and others also based around the same engine. Actually, a Canon engine)

      2. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: "... that it's never as easy as they say "

        This is true in so many walks of life. Watching the demo of laying a laminate floor in a B&Q I was unconvinced: anyone can lay laminate on a perfectly flat surface with perfectly right angle corners. Good luck finding any of that in a British house, even a new one. Where the experts, whether they be plumbers, sparkies, chippies, gardeners or us humble IT types really come into their own is where things aren't as simple as they should be ... which is nearly all the time!

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: "... that it's never as easy as they say "

          " Good luck finding any of that in a British house, even a new one."

          Most of them have the kind of floor that slopes UPWARD to the drain - especially the new ones.

          Quality british workmanship and all that.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "I still have nightmares about the supposed pro who came to our service from the town hall IT dept. to install our first laser printer."

        That's the clown in IT who gets sent on those jobs to get him out of everyone's hair in the central office where he's constantly breaking stuff.

        The thought that it's even harder on people in field offices doesn't seem to cross the minds of some mangelers.

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge


      Local printer issue

      On phone.

      Is the printer connected to your PC?


      Are the cables fully connected?


      OK I will be in building 225 in a hour I'll take a look as my first port of call.

      On hour later...... discover a 6 inch gap between the end of the cable & the printer

      Imagine a Vicky Pollard Yea, but no but yeah series of denials in a Indian accent (As hilarious as it sounds) in front of all her office co-workers (All female & the male department manager frequently shut the door of his office to avoid being driven insane by them - His words not mine).

      A older Xerox one as told to me 30 years ago.

      Uni Graduate, done the manufacturer courses & has ended up now as a fully qualified Xerox Service Tech (I'm as amazed as you are but never mind). Hes been walked through, mentored & it's his first night on night shift alone.

      Phone rings 2am.....

      Printer dead on 5th floor.....

      I'll be right up.

      A hour of head scratching later, the printer is still dead & down.... He rings the boss..

      Have you tried this......Yes

      Have you tried that....Yes

      Have you checked that there is power actually going into the printer at all........Errrr No.......!!!! Ummm nothing there.

      Not your F***ing problem is it then, come & see me before you finish your shift & we will discuss basic fault finding techniques again.

      Similar one with HP told that X PSU assembly needs to be replaced with Y PSU assembly otherwise X will blow. Part X finally arrives but not Y, told to go to client site as client is pissed & can't work*, do basic diagnostics but DO NOT REPLACE X UNTIL YOU HAVE Y, courtesy visit only..........

      OK 2 & a bit hours later, one half of a round trip.....Arrive.....

      Are you here to fix the printer?

      No I only have one half of the parts, the repair will be useless without the other (Verified it happened to me at a different location different client Part X committed suicide on power up). I'm here to give the printer a check (For the bleeding obvious was my first thought - British Accent & see username) while we wait for the other part (As you have been screaming about it being down as mission critical, but have no contingency in place was my next thought).

      30 seconds later.....

      You have no power on the cable....Have you tried plugging anything into this power socket to see if it works?

      Urrrmmmm No

      Have you tried plugging this printer into another power socket that you have something else plugged into & currently working?

      Urrrrmmmmmmmmmmmm No

      Can we try that if you have a extension lead handy?

      Urrrmmm Yes but I don't think it will fix the printer (Confident).

      Plug in....Whrrrrrrrr Hmmmmmmmmmmm Printer Ready (As ready as quickly as a HP printer can power up & then after running self diagnostics on its navel).

      Print after print spews forth.......

      You might want to check your circuit breaker or get a electrician into to look at that plug, in the meantime I'll close the call then as printer fixed then shall I.

      Urrrmmmm Yes Thanks

      Make it to my car before laughing like a drain about rural Albertans....

      *Note for anyone reading this in Canada & wanting insurance, The Co*perat*rs Offices tend usually to have only one printer in smaller locations, typically only two in larger ones.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Users....

        "Print after print spews forth."

        Long time ago I dropped in at a local computer shop found puzzled staff at the printer (sprocket fed - it was a long time ago). They'd sent some massive file by mistake and switched off the PC hoping to stop it only to find the printer continued for about 40 more pages. Well, printers have buffers don't they?

  7. jake Silver badge


    Back in the day I worked on a lot of T-carrier stuff. I can't tell you how many times an owner/client ranted about a shiny new (fractional) T1 link being down, how the equipment was shit, the field guys were incompetent, and pretty much everybody involved with the installation should be taken out behind the barn & horsewhipped. Only to become red-faced when I casually reached out and toggled a loopback switch, thus fixing the link. Seems bosses in general can't resist flipping switches ... and can't read blinkenlights.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Loopy.

      I casually reached out and toggled a loopback switch, thus fixing the link

      Many years ago I looked after a small network (2Mbit serial lines!) and one office kept dropping off the network (particularly when the weather was warm) - thus meaning that the office couldn't work since all the admin systems were centralised.

      After much investigation the flaw turned out to not be equipment heat related (as was my first suspicion) - rather that some of the local staff were tired of their stuffy, overheated office and wanted to go out for a nice ice cream..

      Apparently, flicking the router on/off switch rapidly for a few seconds would convince the router to go into 'lost config' mode and it would cease to be a router until the config was re-applied. Which had to be done locally since the only link to that office went through that router and the router wasn't..

      We replaced that router with a more robust one and the site manager had a quiet word with some of the local staff (along the lines of "we'll forget that it happened - unless it happens again")

      1. vir

        Re: Loopy.

        Even loopier:

        The university I went to would contract students to go and troubleshoot problems with other students' computers in the dorms. Mostly stuff like setting up to print to the school printers. I once pulled a ticket for a network connectivity issue and walked over to check it out. At that time, all the dorm rooms only had one ethernet drop even if there were multiple students living there, so the school would provide a 4-port switch. I go through my checks, computer on, yep no connectivity, look under the desk for the switch, lights are on, follow the ethernet cable out of the switch...and back into the switch. Reinserted it into the wall jack and everything went back to normal. Easiest ticket I ever had.

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Loopy.

          The university I went to would contract students to go and troubleshoot problems with other students' computers in the dorms.

          I thought this story would involve a healthy female student in some way.

          // leaving disappointed

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Loopy.

            'I thought this story would involve a healthy female student in some way.'

            Ok, for your consideration, an Oxbridge college was getting recabled. Word was sent out in advance, so everyone knew when their areas would be getting done.

            Cable Monkeys knock on door of one of the dorms get no response, so go in, find a couple of students at it hammer and tong, they stop for a couple of seconds, tell the cablemonkeys to carry on, then get back to vigorously discussing 'Ugandan affairs'.

            To their credit, the Cable Monkeys despite the obvious distraction, carried on and recabled the room. (God bless good old army and GPO training..)

            1. Outski

              Re: Loopy.

              Upvote for use of "Ugandan affairs"

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Loopy.

          "follow the ethernet cable out of the switch...and back into the switch. "

          I went to a "dead" PC that was plugged into a 4-way extension mains power block. Sadly, the trailing plug meant to go in the wall socket was also plugged into the extension block.

          1. Unicornpiss Silver badge

            Re: Loopy.

            "Sadly, the trailing plug meant to go in the wall socket was also plugged into the extension block."

            I too have experienced that with a UPS that I found plugged into itself. A perpetual motion machine it was not.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Loopy.

            "I went to a "dead" PC"

            Wait until you get the one where an ordinary phone won't answer calls - and the fix is to remove the piece of sticky tape some practical joker put across the hookswitch lever under the handset.

            I've seen someone literally smash an old-style dial phone to pieces because he couldn't answer it and it wouldn't stop ringing, thanks to this jape. How such people get to be managers I'm not quite sure.

            1. niksgarage

              Re: Loopy.

              They've demonstrated incompetence in the past at being a techie, so they are promoted to a job role where they can do less damage - management.

        3. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

          Re: Loopy.

          You guys are really lucky! I'm a medical student and have been scouring for somewhere on our campus to be of a helping hand. Everybody I asked turned me down, except for the helpdesk, which offered me a modest (read: lowly) job on the hardware workbench. I liked it anyhow, seeing that this is the closest thing to IT I'm getting, though wasting too much time (read as: time which could be invested studying for above-passing grades ...)

    2. swm Bronze badge

      Re: Loopy.

      When I was in college Working on the Dartmouth time-sharing system (jointly with GE) there was a GE person that wanted to know the position of every switch on the control panels (remember when computers actually had control panels). He had no clue as to what the switches did and, in fact, most switches did nothing when the computer was running. All of the students and field engineers would randomly switch switches just to annoy him.

      We once had an obscure hardware problem so the field engineers installed another switch to enable some debugging behavior. The next time the our OC switch recorder walked by he had a cow - and everyone deliberately gave different and contradictory explanations for the switch.

      I'm sorry we found the problem and removed the switch.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mode Operation On

    Sort of reminded me of a situation when I was due to fly into Germany to do testing. We had to send over some test equipment before hand, via couriered mail so that it would be available and setup when i got there.

    Anyway days before I flew out we got a phone saying that the test kit was setup, but it did not power on. Cue frantic emails to the kit manufacturer based in Canada and a long night waiting for responses due to time differences, who promised to priority ship replacement kit to Berlin.

    Anyway I arrived, and the new kit was there. However I thought I would just test the old one just to be sure. Just before I tried, I wondered if the guy in Germany knew he had to hold the power supply button down for a few seconds to power it on, and lo and behold, I did this and on came the kit perfectly.

    It was a stressful few days, but on the plus side I don't think the replacement ever got returned and we were never asked for it so we seemed to of ended up with twice as much kit as started with.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Mode Operation On

      It reminds me of a similar problem, except this bit of kit had a on/off switch just next to where the power cable attached, as well as a 'power on' button on the front.

      Needless to say, the presence of a power button on the front stopped anyone from looking for another one, until I was called in to find out why it wasn't working.

  9. Jim 59

    +1 for "terminating a call with considerable prejudice."

  10. Mephistro Silver badge

    “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

    I also have a bunch of histories like this one, and all of them proved without a doubt that the techies weren't the ones "over-paid and under-skilled".

    In one of them, I fixed the issue in a little over 30 seconds after being subject to five minutes or so of verbal abuse. The user was a middle exec that seemingly had been flapping his trap in the office before I arrived, because when I was leaving the premises, the company manager came to have a word with me complaining about the quality of our service. I patiently and politely explained him the issue -a CD-ROM in the optical drive unit was causing an "Operating system not found" message-, and for a moment I feared the manager would have an apoplexy, with his face turning bright red and all, till he apologised to me and left for the user's office, probably not to give him a promotion. This interchange happened in the company's general office in front of two dozen workers or so, and on my way to the door I saw several smiles and even a wink.

    1. Stu Wilson

      Re: “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

      So the BIOS boot sequence had been set to CD-ROM first?

      Bad practice to leave it like that for any enterprise machine for just this reason.

      1. Mephistro Silver badge

        Re: “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

        "Bad practice to leave it like that for any enterprise machine for just this reason."

        True, and that's the reason why I set the BIOS to start from the HD before leaving. I suspect the culprits were either the guys who had installed the machines two years before or the luser himself.

        This history included several other juicy details, but they would make me -and the customer- easily identifiable, which is a no-no.

        1. Stu Wilson

          Re: “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

          My money would be on the build/installers, lowest paid button clickers in the IT chain

          1) insert cd

          2) boot the machine

          3) press button 1, then button 2, then button 1

          4) wait 10 minutes

          5) eject cd & power down

          6) rinse & repeat

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

            All is well and good, as long as they remember to do step #5.

            In a former life, I got really tired of tracking down missing installation CDs. I kept nagging the install techs to test the CD eject button as a final step in the assembly process. Some caught on, some didn't.

            1. Keven E

              Re: “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

              If you hold the cd tray eject button while powering a machine on it'll usually open the tray before attempting to boot from what's in it.

              I've actually found an install cd left in "refurbished" gear.

              1. bombastic bob Silver badge

                Re: “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

                "If you hold the cd tray eject button while powering a machine on it'll usually open the tray before attempting to boot from what's in it."

                and sometimes it tries to re-close while you're attempting to remove the CD/DVD...

                /me notes that on a refurb XBox 360 it came with a game disk still in the drive. It was not one I wanted, though... [I also had to erase all of the old user info and installed games, kinda painful but the price was right]

                1. Martin-73 Silver badge

                  Re: “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

                  Yep, have had several tugs o war with machines like that. Usually after restoring from a backup (which means I'm already in a foul mood having had do go through whatever caused it)

                  I frequently ended up yelling "OPTICAL DRIVES ARE CHEAP. GEDDIT?"

      2. bobajob12

        Re: “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

        Depends. Suppose you have a satellite office or some other location that's hard to get to, and a box dies.

        You can either spend your days explaining to Remote Bob how to press F8/F1/F12 fast --no, faster Bob!-- and then walk him through the BIOS menu to boot from your recovery CD, or you can tell him not to poweroff the machine with a CD in it, ever.

        I've worked for enterprises that had a boatload of people (and therefore you'd think enough $$ clout to have everything standardized down to the BIOS, same-day drop-ship fully built machines to remote workers, etc) but it still came down to nonsense like this over the phone when things broke.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: “...hated us for being over-paid and under-skilled.”

        "Bad practice to leave it like that for any enterprise machine for just this reason."

        Or on a home machine. Or floppy boot first.

        In the early days of running an ISP, I got asked to sort out a machine for the CEO of a client company (install antivirus, defrag the drive, make sure he can get on the Internet) and whilst I was at it, I switched off the "boot from floppy first" in bios, because - well, because it's sensible.

        While I was there, the "technical expert" from the company arrived to give him training on the company software and Internet software. She launched into this big rigamrole about viruses always coming from floppies and never to leave one in the drive and simply _stared_ at me when I said "It won't matter if he does. I set the machine so it won't boot from them", then demanded to know how I could do that as it was impossible.

        I pointed out that it's a bios setting and that increasingly viruses were coming by email, which is why I'd setup the antivirus software to update itself automatically periodically across the Internet, _check_ any files sent in email or attempted to be run off any media and flag up a warning/prevent that file being executed/downloaded if it recognised anything as dangerous. Cue another bour of staring and "That's impossible"

        Unsurprisingly, said company was thoroughly reamed by script kiddies not long after they connected the corporate network to the Internet via a fulltime connection (That was after telcos stomped all over the ISP market and was all done by the technical/security experts form the telco ISP in conjunction with the in-house experts). I'd warned them about six months previously that something like this would happen unless they revised their security, which they responded to by claiming to all and sundry that I'd threatened to hack them in retaliation for them closing their accounts (yes, that's the kind of mentality you're up against a lot of the time)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have a software version of this story

    Investigating a batch job failure I identified that a certain transaction had been made for a number of dollars that exceeded that of the total circulation of the time. Lets call it a very, very big number and indeed unprocessable.

    Given that the business area concerned was not normally making transactions of this magnitude, I give them a call, and politely ask if this was intentional, or a mistaken entry.

    All I got was a tirade of "you F*^^*&£, my team do not make mistakes.." etc. after more than 15 minutes and a reminder that processing was not going to proceed without a decision, eventually one of his team members confirms a mistake in the background (quite glad of this as I am still not sure how I would have fixed it without re-writing the entire application and batch suite...)

    My boss looks up after this call and simply said, "you could have transferred him to me if he was being difficult", er, thanks but you could have mentioned this during the call...

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: I have a software version of this story

      Back in the day I used to work in the IT department of a print company, setting up the batch jobs that controlled the industrial printers (which had numbers like '350' and '440' which described the number of feet of paper per minute). The print-room manager was a particularly self-important individual who believed that he ran his department perfectly, and mistakes were always made by others. On one occasion, when I was tasked with tracking down the cause of an audit-mismatch with a cheque-printing job (which, IIRC was down to one of his staff not recording the pre-printed cheque numbers on the stock correctly when it was loaded into the printer), he uttered the immortal words, "I never make mistakes". His immaculately kept stack of file boxes provided the audit evidence to show otherwise. A few weeks later, his wife ran off with another man.

      1. Mycho Silver badge

        Re: I have a software version of this story

        The people who "never make mistakes" always seem blissfully unaware how closely we're all watching them.

      2. Nolveys Silver badge

        Re: I have a software version of this story

        cheque-printing job...

        This story doesn't really fit in with the theme of the conversation, but the mention of "cheque-printing job" reminded me of it.

        I was in the comptroller's office of a medium-sized manufacturing company dealing with a printer issue. I managed to send a large report to the cheque printer in the next room. By the time I realized what I had done the printer had burned through its entire massive stack of cheques. The cheques had little hologram thingies on them and looked really fancy, so they were probably not cheap.

        I got the printer issue fixed, sent the report to the correct printer, gave the report the comptroller and she thanked me. I then said "Aaaand here's a huge pile of cheques that I destroyed. See ya!" and ran from the room before she could respond.

  12. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Handle with care

    These situations can actually be made very rewarding.

    I started out as a humble in-the-home TV repairman (yes it was that long ago) and soon learned to make soothing commiserating noises. Once things had calmed down, I'd quietly ask what they would like me to put on the job ticket. So, "Not switched on" became "Loss of power". This almost always worked like a charm, and on repeat calls I even had customers saying they'd wait if I wasn't available on that day.

    I carried that policy on when I moved into industrial electronics (where you also needed to quickly establish who was really in charge), and have made some good friends over the years. Also, your name gets known. It's amusing when you get a puzzled look from your boss, as a new customer calls up and and gruffly says says "Can you send Will - he seems to know what he's doing."

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big red

    At one time I was involved with automatic production machinery. We had just installed a new machine, and at 9:30 PM I got a call to say it wasn't working, there was power but everything was jammed.

    I walked into the factory at 10, saw that someone had pushed a latching emergency stop button and it said "Emergency stop" on the console, released the button, pressed the green button, machine started, and walked out and went home. Time on site under one minute, words spoken nil.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Big red

      Not even asking why the emergency stop had been pressed before reapplying power? Tsk! On an industrial process machine? Unless you can find out why the button had been pressed, you should strip the machine down, check all the paths, safety interlocks, points of greatest hazard... You do get paid by the hour, I take it?

      1. 404 Silver badge

        Re: Big red

        That minute gets charged for two hours - just because they made me look. Stupid should always hurt in some way.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Big red

          I implemented a four hour minimum for on-site visits in (roughly) 1990, a couple years after I went solo. Double on weekends/holidays. A few clients balked at the new rate ... I simply told 'em "Don't call me unless you actually need me".

          A new issue arose. Convincing 'em to pay 4 hours for a one minute visit. The old TV repairman's maxim applied, "I'm not charging you for thumping your telly with a screwdriver. I'm charging you for knowing where and how hard to thump your telly, and for showing up to do it". The explanation seems to have worked ... although a couple weeks ago, a child CEO wondered why I'd need to thump a telly.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Big red

      At a (thankfully) former employer, a technician co-worker got a call in the wee hours of the morning. (As NONE of us were paid to be on-call, I had stopped answering my phone at night...) He drove a full hour in to work - after only being home from work an hour or so. The head of shift showed him a cryptic error message on the production machine's HMI - nothing to do with our department, but since he had already been called to the plant, he started trying to figure out what was wrong. Several minutes later, the head of shift happened to find an e-stop pushed in, and pulled it out. Error message instantly cleared.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More PFYs needed!

    is lack of PFY's damaging the UK's economy? details inside!

  15. sandman

    Crazed author

    I once had to set up a global conference for a major book launch. (This was in the days when Centra was in wide use). OK, the day comes, everything is set up and tested and I'm waiting... next I get a furious phone call, giving me a total bollocking because nobody can log on. I'm totally mystified, so take the lift up to the executive level. Here I find the author has decided that since there is a consumer version of the software, they won't bother with the already set up corporate instance. Not only haven't they got a clue how to use it, I actually get blamed for their failure. At this stage I threatened to defenestrate the nasty little man (well, we were on the 9th floor). There never was an apology...

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Crazed author

      It seem those important enough to be doing video conference calls are incapable of connecting said calls, and need a techie to assist them with what is basically an on button and dialling a number.

  16. Milton Silver badge

    "How difficult can it be?"

    "How difficult can it be?"

    The phrase beloved of executives, senior managers, cubicle fauna brandishing worthless MBAs, politicians and almost all other imbeciles who think style matters more than substance. Who hasn't heard some suited oaf, who really thinks his ability to paste together an Excel formula is an IT achievement, utterly fail to understand what a techie is trying to explain in short, easy words, with pictures, and eventually huff out "How difficult can it be?"

    Polticians may be even worse, as Brexit proves superbly.

    There's no ignorance that can't be deepened by the arrogance of fools who don't understand that Detail Is Everything.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: "How difficult can it be?"

      "How difficult can it be?"

      I've had that said to me many times (mostly by sales types) when the systems don't work how *they* think they should..

      Ignoring the fact that, for most of them, even turning on a toaster in the morning would be a significant technical achievement.

      So no, we don't have any magical pixies that can carry the information from your (non-3G enabled laptop - because you are too tight to pay the extra £100 for one and the £8/m the contract would cost) to our CRM. And no, our corporate wifi doesn't work in Starbucks (because, again, your director had a better use for the budget that was going to pay for a proper remote access system as his office needed refurbishing).

    2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

      Re: "How difficult can it be?"

      "How hard can it be?", asked Jeremy Clarkson on just about every Top Gear episode.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "How difficult can it be?"

        The irony is, that hateful little man would not have any idea how to build an engine even if you hit him over the head with a camshaft and a torque wrench. He's a fucking "journalist". At best.

        I'm not a huge fan of Jay Leno's act but he could strip down a V8 with his eyes shut.

        1. Mike Flex

          Re: "How difficult can it be?"

          "I'm not a huge fan of Jay Leno's act but he could strip down a V8 with his eyes shut."

          Stripping things down is the easy bit. The trick is whether you can re-assemble them and have them work afterwards.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: "How difficult can it be?"

            "The trick is whether you can re-assemble them and have them work afterwards."

            In Jay Leno's case: Yes

            In Clarkson's case: I'm not even sure he could turn the engine block into an artsy table without paying someone else to do the entire job from start to finish.

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: "How difficult can it be?"

            "Stripping things down is the easy bit. The trick is whether you can re-assemble them and have them work afterwards."

            Does diagnosing and replacing a thermostat on a CAT D3400 in the hold of a Monterey Clipper with no light except that from the open hatch while drifting past the Farallons count? (Sorry, no storm coming in ... Summer off-shore breeze).

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: "How difficult can it be?"

      Useless rich kids used to be sent into the army or the church. Now they get MBAs.

  17. Mike Lewis

    Whenever there was a problem with a computer, the CTO would sit down in front of it, confirm there was a problem then hand it over to the accountant. The accountant was quite good at fixing computers and networks. This was a company making medical equipment, by the way.

  18. Bob Wheeler

    So many bosses ....

    .... seem to think that techies can become an expert on some new application by simply holding the floppy disks and assimilating knowledge by osmosis.

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Re: So many bosses ....

      What? you mean you can't?

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: So many bosses ....

        What? you mean you can't?

        I can't either. But I can a very convincing imitation of being able to..

    2. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: So many bosses ....

      My first "proper" job was at a radio station - officially there to fix things audio-related, but I ended up "doing IT" because, well, it's similar isn't it? I think there were four computers in the building when I started.

      Some time later, a person who had recently been sent on a three-day training course in spreadsheets called me to help her rescue a spreadsheet. At this point I did have a computer at home, an Archimedes A310, but I had never actually used a spreadsheet in my life. The closest I'd come was reading about them in a magazine.

      I think it's related to the phenomenon of "oh, you live in Wales. Do you know Tom Jones?"


      (by the way - sorted her in a matter of a few minutes. If I remember correctly it was because she'd hard-coded something - the VAT rate? - that should have been referenced and was panicing about having to search and replace 0.15 with 0.175 through several hundred lines)

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had one where I knew the kit was crap and inadequate, I knew the install was sketchy and I knew it would fall over with 200+ people watching. I also knew the manager was not going to be around and we'd get a bollocking when he got back.

    I wrote up the whole thing and gave it to him the second he mentioned it, pinning the entire responsibility on him. That report saved hours of explaining and meant I could just carry on with my other work.

  20. Picky

    Too much Power

    I was sent to a big Printing exhibition in Barcelona to install software for our German distributor.

    The Germans brought a load of Compaqs for me to install onto. None of them checked the power first. All the kit blew up - the Spanish electrician had wired the exhibition stand with 440V.

    I always carry a testmeter when travelling!

  21. Halfmad

    try working in schools

    I remember fixing an inkjet printer which was full of rice. Turns out the kids had been making little food related collages and put them on the wall above the printer whilst wet, most of the glue and rice fell into the printer over night and nobody realised.

    So I went out, took the printer to bits, cleaned it and printed off a couple of sheets to prove it was fine.

    The next day we got an angry call from the headteacher about the "printer not working again, clearly your technician didn't fix it properly" So my boss having no backbone sent me out again to take the grief.

    Turns out it was pasta this time.

    1. Captain TickTock

      Re: try working in schools

      Did you say it was getting pasta joke?

      1. Unicornpiss Silver badge

        Re: try working in schools

        Having worked on POS systems in restaurants (in both senses of the acronym), I used to have fun situations such as a line cook knocking an order printer off a shelf into a bucket of tomato sauce. (it actually worked after I thoroughly rinsed it out and let it dry for a week or so)

        Other memorable situations from that other lifetime:

        -Visiting a restaurant unit where nothing worked, to discover someone had plugged a UPS into itself.

        -A situation where a pipe had burst in a ceiling, and it was raining on all the POS equipment, while there were 2 inches of water on all the floors. This while the opening person calmly sat in the dining room watching the chaos.

        -Another flooded restaurant where the opening young man and woman sat on a bench making out while a river of water flowed from the restroom out the front door.

        -A server that had failed due to a mouse building a nest in it and defecating on the motherboard for ages until something failed. (the drives came out and the rest went in the dumpster)

        -Someone neatening up by stapling up all the network cabling that was hanging--by stapling through the cables, into the wires inside.

        -A lightning strike at a strip mall. I replaced the main computer, 2 dead terminals, and their PBX. (I couldn't do anything about their fried electronic safe--a locksmith had their own headache with this one) There was a line of contractor vans all down the mall--every business had electrical woes.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: try working in schools

          "it actually worked after I thoroughly rinsed it out and let it dry for a week or so"

          I miss my old Nokia 5185 ... Over 15+ years, it was stepped on by horses, gnawed on by sheep and puppies, run over by tractors, "cured" in the smokehouse overnight, dropped into toilets (three times), into a pot of boiling soup (twice) and into a bucket of used motor oil (once). When $TELCO forced me to retire it, it was still on its original battery, and didn't seem to function much different than the day it was new. I had to replaced the outer case and the antenna several times.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: try working in schools

      for an extra fee you should offer to relocate the printer to resolve future problems.

      Oh, wait...

  22. David 135

    Sounds familiar

    I know someone who confidently assures everyone that they can do something well having never tried to do it before. They do, however, have the excuse of being a 5 year old slightly spoiled only child. To reach adulthood and have that same lack of understanding that learning things takes time is why many managers are so reviled...

  23. Andrew Moore Silver badge


    I was once visiting a remote client site when I was called into their managers office. He then proceeded to rant and rage at me: someone had made over £1000 worth of phone calls to Dublin, and as I (and my company) were from Dublin, then in his eyes, it was obviously us. I pointed out that: a) I didn't work in his office; and b) My last visit was over a year previous. He asked me what that had to do with anything- I pointed to the phone bill and the dates the calls were recorded on and told him I wasn't in his office on any of those days. I left feeling that he still wasn't convinced that it wasn't me.

  24. ecofeco Silver badge

    Ah the old "overpaid tech" client

    When I run into those I usually leave them on their own.

    1. HieronymusBloggs Silver badge

      Re: Ah the old "overpaid tech" client

      "When I run into those I usually leave them on their own."

      Bonus points for saying "How difficult can it be?" as you leave.

  25. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Had to deliver a printerer (brand new in box) to a difficult client once.

    The arrangement was that the printerer would be handed over & installed after said client would hand over a cheque for an outstanding amount of money plus the money for the printerer.

    Client eventually arrived sans cheque. Told him that no, will not install the printer, whereupon he tried to kick me - but kicked the printerer's box.

    Luckily no damage, but company told client to get lost after this incident, and a debt collection agency got involved.

  26. tfc

    I had one printer that had intermittent problems, the hardware guy could not fix, so I spend a couple of days reading up about it before we both went to the customers site, as they assumed it was a software problem.

    I checked the printer, it seemed OK, the dip switches were correct, so as a test I just flipped all the switches before doing anything else, and low and behold the printer worked fine after that.

    It was in the Lake District so we spent the rest of the day having a pleasant drive around.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had "wonderful" customer - paid big bucks for a 17" CRT way back in the day and then lugged it in, a month later, very upset that we'd sold her a bum display. Turned it on and there were all kinds of pinkish/yellowish/bluish fluctuations and "Bloopy" activities going on. We were filling out the paperwork to take it in and ship it off to service, when 7 year old daughter blurts out "little brother was running a magnet across the screen."

    Mon turns a whiter shade of pale, then blushes, sort of bloopy-like

    We did get the monitor replaced under RMA, and I am sure big sister was left behind on future "it's not working right" trips.

    1. Usermane

      Nobody had the idea of demagnetize the crt as soon they seen the funny colors in the screen?

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "Nobody had the idea of demagnetize the crt..."

        Nobody servicing CRTs had a degaussing wand?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had one about three years ago...

    The Manager we had at that time thought that *everything* could be done in two weeks, irregardless of us not knowing a damned thing about [product of the week]. And then berating us with the old saw of "well, I can get that done" which I threw back in his face with "So show me, or shut up and let me finish learning this new system first". He was not pleased with that one.

    He also kept changing directions with what he wanted. We were *quite* glad when he turned in his noticed and got gently pushed out the door later that week. (too gently, in my opinion...)

  29. pop_corn

    Plugging in the phone

    Many moons ago, the mother in law decided she wanted to get on "that internet thing". To her credit, she'd popped down to Tesco's and pickup up a Tesco.Net CD and was studiously following the instructions therein. She called me when it wasn't working.

    After much over the phone diagnostics, I discovered her mistake: when it came to plugging the computer into the "phone line", she'd actually plugged the computer into the "phone".

    She had literally unplugged her 1980's style phone from the wall, then plugged the cable from the phone handset into the back of the computer... so now neither were connected to the wall socket (she was calling me on her mobile)!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Just this week i got pulled out of a call with our global security architect by an upset Ops dir.

    "Our vip guest cant get the screen too work in room 1, thought you fixed it?!" he bleats, despite seeing me wear a headset with the mic down and a full screen skype for B meeting onscreen.

    I reply "I did its working just fine"

    So i make my apologies to sec guy, take off my headset and go to room 1.

    As i go in, I notice the screen is on and displaying an extended desktop, i ask, what is wrong?

    The flustered guest says, "I cant get webex to show on that screen!"

    I look confused, maximise her webex window and dragged it onto the screen.......there you go.

    I smile and step out of the room bewildered.......thankfully the sec guy found it funny, hes a fellow jock in exile down souf, "So about those MPLS lines and the firewall rules I wish to get approved mate...."

    AC for a reason ;)

  31. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Overpaid and underskilled..

    Isn't that a description of many managers? People do seem to fail upwards. I wouldn't apply "overpaid" to most of the grunts in the IT world. But I have seen some vastly underskilled... and again, these are the ones that seem to find their way into management. Truly, those who can't do, lead.

    One personal story of PEBKAC would be with a Legal consultant, working a 4-6 month contract for a nice 6-figure salary. Her monitor wouldn't work, so I asked the obvious: "Is the power on; have you checked the cables to make sure they're all plugged in?" "Of course I've tried that!!" I hiked across our vast facility to visit her office, looked at the monitor, pushed the power button, and made my egress. No words were exchanged, no eye contact was made.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Overpaid and underskilled..

      Unicornpiss, might want to investigate the phenomena widely known as "the Peter principle".

  32. Stu J

    Cables under desks

    As a summer job when at Uni, I worked in desktop support at a government scientific research establishment. One day I got a ticket to go and deal with the brand new CEO, who was some incredibly eminent Professor in his field. He couldn't get Outlook to update his email. After a quick ping determined no network connectivity, I followed the purple network cable out of the back of his PC, under his desk, where it was tangled with a green network cable, which was plugged into the wall socket. Plug the purple cable into the wall, and hey presto everything worked... He sheepishly admitted he'd rearranged his own office furniture and recabled things himself...

  33. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

    Going for broke. AC:PA

    Take's about the same level of balls, to know your worth and ask the CEO of the company to press the on button. #rewardsjustifythemeans

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Going for broke. AC:PA

      "to know your worth and ask the CEO of the company to press the on button"

      Surprisingly, CEOs are pretty good when asked questions and will offer up a Mea Culpa.

      It's the lower level managers who tend to be problematic and if one of that type gets to the head honcho spot the company usually goes TITSUP not long aftetwards.

  34. CleverRichard

    Roger Mellie - the man in tech support

    We once disposed of a batch of surplus Taxan monitors but unfortunately forgot to remove the label with our own logo and address. Was in the office one Saturday afternoon when there was a phone call from someone who said they had one of our products but could not get and image on the screen. (we supplied video graphics systems). I tried to point him in the direction of the dealer I assumed he had bought the system from, but it turned out he had purhased it second hand at a car boot sale. So then I asked him to run a few diagnostic tests; starting with loading a test image from the disk ...

    "Er, hang on a minute, should there be a computer with this. Shit, I thought it was a bit cheap for a telly." He said, and slammed down the phone

    1. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

      Re: Roger Mellie - the man in tech support

      Well, AFAIK, monitors could qualify as cheap tellies, provided you have the appropriate adapters (whatever-to-component or whatever-to-HDMI) ... or isn't it the case here?

  35. eionmac

    mechanical-fowl fault, not electrical

    A client (very specialised, made very expensive 'flying machines') used our mechanical blowers which were electrical motor driven to put air into test systems. Sometimes when they ran systems the fuses in main power supply house burst - our fault get down here!!! It was no problem to test whole system when unconnected to flying machine, it all works. Then one day the town's main electric supply burst (big fuses melted!) . Um!. On investigation I show it works. Connect flying machine and it fails. Is Pipework to flying machine OK? I ask - "Yes, of course!". I doubt and ask to proceed to pipe to check , "NO stop, you will not walk pipe or access the roof!!! %% $$." "Roof pipes are OK."

    Manager, said no one is allowed on roof!. Ah I say, but your total insurance against a big explosion (by over pressure) is on the roof so someone must have checked pipe? "No not in 5 years, no one allowed on roof!

    Eventually I walk system including roof. Ah, no air flow from over pressure pipe outlet dip to atmosphere.I look inside pipe. Nesting seagulls with a big guano glued nest to inside of pipe. Get tools, scrape out nest. Switch on and all OK. Cost about XX hundred thousand pounds of lost product time and town unworkable.

    Gulls had had a happy nesting site with some warm air flow until Guano really glued the air flow pipe closed. Result a working connected e-motor going into reverse when the coupled machine went into reverse by back flow air over pressure, big electric surges melting fuses all over the place. Our bill was not queried. Our report was (somehow?) not shown to insurers, and we just found all went well in future for our guys on that site as no one ever queried their actions. Sometimes it is not the obvious that is a fault

  36. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    "over-paid and under-skilled"? Luxury! Try under-paid and over-skilled.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TSB ?

    I saw the headline and immediately thought of TSB. Can't wait till someone posts the facts here.

  38. niksgarage

    Basic skills lost to time and promotions

    Not long after our company introducing a new PC based workstation to the market in the early 80s, I was "invited" to get on a plane one afternoon to go to the boardroom of Allianz Leben in Stuttgart, to fix an unfixable computer. This machine was in the boardroom for their very important meetings once a month, where an unlucky junior got to show all of the latest graphs and charts from the mainframe. It wouldn't boot (from floppy). It had had EVERYTHING replaced in its life, as the head Customer Engineer for Germany showed me in a detailed log of everything. New diskette drive, new diskette controller, new motherboard, new power supply and so on. They'd tried to run the diagnostics and even that wouldn't boot.

    So in this huge boardroom, a team of angry, smug looking very well paid engineers and managers watched as I approached the machine. Before booting up, I glanced at the diagnostic diskette they were using, and I could see this huge scratch on the surface. Thing is, I had brought my own diagnostic diskettes, and the machine booted up with no problems. They were staggered. So, at some time in the past the diskette drive that they had replaced was faulty, but it had damaged their boot diskette, and their diagnostic diskette before being swapped out. I estimate the customer received support worth ten times the value of that single machine, just to fix one faulty part.

  39. This post has been deleted by its author

  40. FlippingGerman

    Thin Blue Line

    "You need to integrate the power supply at source. "


    "Plug it in!"

  41. elvisimprsntr

    We had one customer site which the socket was controlled by a dimmer switch. Not even close to being code. Nobody could figure why the UPS kept kicking in when they dimmed the lights in the next room.

  42. tinman

    it's not just users who are numpties

    I work in the NHS and asked our IT department to install a PC interface card for a thermometer calibrator in a theatre area. I could have done it myself and had done in the past but this time I thought I'd do it by the book. I checked a couple of days later and the nurse I'd liaised with said they'd come out but the guy said it wouldn't fit. Knowing it would as I'd checked it myself previously, I rang them up and got the techie himself who'd been out.

    "It's too tall" he said

    "It's a low profile case, did you try turning it sideways?"

    He grumpily said he'd come out later, but then a few moments later launched into a tirade, calling me a cheeky bastard and the like, before slagging off his supervisor. I was rather startled at this but then realised he'd hung up my end of the call but not his and was still using his headset and talking to the rest of the helpdesk office

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