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

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

  1. ArrZarr Silver badge
    Coat

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

    Back when I were a lad...

    1. Symon Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      "with their manuals"

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

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

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

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "what we all have nowadays is the web"

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

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

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

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

      2. Skeptic Chicken

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

      3. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

        @Symon

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

        1. AceRimmer1980

          Or the basement, when the stairs are out.

    2. wolfetone Silver badge

      "Computers were real computers."

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

      1. ArrZarr Silver badge
        Joke

        @wolfetone

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

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Look at me typing on an imaginary laptop."

        Or a virtual one?

    3. John70

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

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

      1. bigtreeman

        searching

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

      2. Adam 1 Silver badge

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

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

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

    4. Eclectic Man

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

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

      (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

  2. Giovani Tapini

    Back in my day

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

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

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Back in my day

      Penknife? Luxury!

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Back in my day

        Training? Luxury!

        1. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

          Re: Back in my day

          Training? Luxury!

          you dont know you were born....

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

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Back in my day

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

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Back in my day

        "Penknife? Luxury!"

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

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Back in my day

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

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

      1. Symon Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Back in my day

        "screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife "

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

        1. DuchessofDukeStreet
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Back in my day

          Rope, cable ties and tape.

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

      2. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

        Re: Back in my day

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

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

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

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Back in my day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          1. albegadeep

            Re: Back in my day

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

            1. Mage Silver badge

              Re: Multitool

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

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

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

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

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

          2. Mage Silver badge

            Re: Back in my day

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

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

            Legalised theft and security theatre.

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

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Back in my day

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

          3. 0laf Silver badge

            Re: Back in my day

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

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

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

            I feel a bit naked without a multitool nearby

            1. RockBurner

              Re: Back in my day - SAK owners

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

        2. gotes

          Re: Back in my day

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

          1. Brett Weaver

            Re: Back in my day

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

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

          2. Outski

            Re: Back in my day

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

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

        3. David Roberts Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Back in my day - Swiss Army Knife

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

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

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

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

        4. Snapper

          Re: Back in my day

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

          Thin Blade for opening boxes and parcels.

          Nail File and Flat Screwdriver

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

          Phillips screwdriver/bottle opener/wire stripper

          Small Very (very) Sharp Scissors

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

          Plus it's tiny!

    3. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

      Re: Back in my day

      > all you needed was screwdrivers, insulating tape and penknife

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

      1. bigtreeman

        Re: Back in my day

        after you'd erased the gold from the edge connectors

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

    4. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Back in my day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      1. Nifty

        Re: Back in my day

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

        This reminds me an incident with expensive minicomputer disk platters.

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

    5. Paul Shirley

      Re: Back in my day

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

    6. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Back in my day

      Back in my day

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

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

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Back in my day

        Even masochists?

        1. AmenFromMars

          Re: Back in my day

          "Back in my day

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

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

    7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Coat

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

      True.

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

      1. Caffeinated Sponge

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

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

    8. 2Fat2Bald

      Re: Back in my day

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

      1. Symon Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Back in my day

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

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

        Buy it in that America though.

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

        Forty quid.

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

        Thirty bucks.

        Hmm.

  3. Olivier2553

    I don't know if anything has changed

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

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't know if anything has changed

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

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

      1. Giovani Tapini

        Re: I don't know if anything has changed

        2 years after, pah,

        Often written against the pre-launch prototype that works in entirely different ways to the shipped product. It surprises me that even in the internet age that manuals still suffer from this, and are also almost entirely immune to the sort of question that might have resulted in a need to refer to them.

        Hmm, now that row of 6 dip switches, what do they do? The manual only goes up to 4 but I have been told to change the last one by phone support, WTF does it do? RTFM does not always work...

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: I don't know if anything has changed

          This in a nutshell: Often written against the pre-launch prototype that works in entirely different ways to the shipped product.

          As a former tech writer (before changing careers) I can attest to this as "normal". Also add... the prototypes seldom physically look like the shipped unit.

      2. Paul Shirley

        Re: I don't know if anything has changed

        Not yet seen a manual written before ship that matched the product

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: I don't know if anything has changed

          "Not yet seen a manual written before ship that matched the product"

          Many written afterwords have a tenuous connection.

          I hate the car manuals that seem to cover every variant except the one you are sitting in. Mysterious integrated radio with controls on steering wheel, bluetooth hands free, voice control, but no microphone. Cable not even fitted to rear of radio. Yet manual DOES have that model as one of three possible ones.

          Cars used to be fixable. Now full of poorly documented distributed computer systems and pretend mechanical dials driven by computer. Door switches hidden inside the door locks. Why won't the open door indicator and air bag indicator go out?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't know if anything has changed

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

        Never (if my current employer is anything to go by).

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: I don't know if anything has changed

      That's what apprenticeships are for.

      You start off by going out with an experienced techie, carrying stuff, working at the other end of a cable and so on, and you learn on the job.

  4. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
    Coat

    Training?

    Is that related to all the cloudy articles?

  5. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Vetting? Does he thinks he's James Herriot?

    But to this day he wonders why he wasn’t vetted

    Because obviously the Soviets would only ever recruit the right sort of people, the ones who went to Oxbridge and knew all about art and culture, and who would get to meet the Queen (especially if they were related to her).

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Vetting? Does he thinks he's James Herriot?

      Because obviously the Soviets would only ever recruit the right sort of people,

      I recall many years ago at a plant building ships for Her Majesty they vetted all the Programmers. They didn't vet the Operators though who had far greater access to the systems and data.

      1. Symon Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Vetting? Does he thinks he's James Herriot?

        Far side.

        https://wickershamsconscience.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/larson-get-tutored1.jpg

      2. big_D Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: Vetting? Does he thinks he's James Herriot?

        I was helping install a new personnel system at a Naval dockyard. I was thrown on the project at the last minute, got the vetting forms on a Friday afternoon, had to fill them out over the weekend and drive halfway across the country on the Monday morning...

        The problem is, the vetting takes 3 months. I needed to start work on the Monday and you got a maximum of 3 daily passes, then you had to wait for the vetting to complete, before getting a permanent pass...

        On the Thursday, I turned up for work and my colleagues abandoned me at the gate. The security guard checked his records and said I couldn't come on site. I tried to point out that the vetting was under way, but that didn't help.

        Then I had a brainwave. I explained that I was converting the data from the old personnel system to the new one and if I didn't finish that work, he wouldn't be getting his pay check at the end of the month... That did it, I got a 3 month temporary pass.

        Obviously being paid is more important than security. The good news is the vetting was completed and I was allowed to apply for a permanent pass. The bad news, that was 2 months after the end of the project.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Vetting? Does he thinks he's James Herriot?

          Hmm. Vetting. I was vetted for what I was working on at the time, and visited a certain establishment several times, getting the right sort of badge. Anyway one day I was asked to support a different team on some other project & went with them to visit the same establishment. So at the reception the other guys got their badges, but they could find no record of my vetting status, even though I had been there before. It was most embarrassing to have a red 'not quite Joe Public' badge on when what we were talking about would never normally have included a red badger. The other guys had to vouch for me in the meeting, even though I hadn't worked with them before.

          1. Saruman the White

            Re: Vetting? Does he thinks he's James Herriot?

            On the flip side I had to visit a satellite ground station site in the Netherlands a couple of years ago with my boss (not military, but these commercial sites normally have tight security due to the cost of replacing all that fancy kit). My boss had to go through a long process to prove who he was to the security guard. In my case he just tossed me the security pass (a higher grade one than my boss I should add) with a friendly greeting - I had worked at that site 10 years ago and they still had my details on file!

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Vetting? Can we screw with the Americans a bit? Please?

              I was once a subcontractor on a weather satellite payload support job in France, at a time when some idiot NOAA political appointees had pissed off their ESA partners. (At the tech level, all was well, it was just that the manglement level was suddenly overrun by interfering fools who saw a project budget they could pillage.) As a result, someone at the local facility "lost" my credentials for most of a day in order to stick it to those drones from the US. Knowing this background, and that it wasn't aimed personally at me but rather at some folks I disliked as much as they did, I calmly parked myself in a chair in the guard room waiting area, propped my Stetson over my eyes, and demonstratively took a couple of hours nap while the ESA tech folks explained to the facility people that delaying a VERY expensive and tightly scheduled thermal-vacuum test by locking out an instrument support engineer who was required for the test to go on (and who wasn't a party to the idiocy in any case) was hurting them more than it hurt their intended targets.

              All was well after that as long as we kept the new bureaucrats at a distance while getting the job done, which we were more than happy to do.

              Anon for rather obvious reasons.

      3. Edward Clarke

        Re: Vetting? Does he thinks he's James Herriot?

        Back when I started as an operator at a three letter company our personnel department had removable disk packs locked up to keep salary information away from unauthorized people. They'd stay in the room while salary projections were run and immediately take the printouts away after locking up the disk packs.

        At which point the operators would print out a copy for themselves from the scratch tape that was left mounted after the job was run.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Vetting? Does he thinks he's James Herriot?

          Anon, because...

          One morning, many, many years (and companies) ago, I stopped by the copy room to make some copies. I opened the lid of the copier, and (not unusually) there was a forgotten original on the glass.

          As I picked it up to put it aside, I noticed names that looked familiar. It was a listing of the top corporate executives, their salaries and their bonus amounts. As I am a but of a rogue, and I was more of one when I was younger, I thought it might be fun to whack the hornets' nest with a stick a bit. So I made a few copies and scattered them around the office.

          I am told, there was a bit of a hubub, but it never came near me.

  6. TonyJ Silver badge

    Training...

    ...it can take many forms:

    You have the stuff you have to learn out of necessity - you know, where you basically train yourself by learning on the job when something goes wrong.

    You have the stuff you do as part of your education (and I was very lucky BITD to be taught by some real giants who'd had decades of real-world experience before going into teaching). Of course, you also have to have chosen the right kind of course.

    Then there's the stuff you can pick up with your own labs, tinkering and breaking stuff at home.

    And my least favourite is the "official vendor" training which, as I've often said, is their simply to boost their revenue and in almost all cases is a test of memory not knowledge and which no company has any interest in following through with until their partner renewals are up.

    Of them all, I suspect the first is by far the most common and by far the most effective - especially when the thing that went wrong was caused by your own lack of knowledge/experience and you have to dig your way back out.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Training...

      Trouble comes when you're in a genuine zero-tolerance field, yet you're never told what in the long list can get you sacked, a la a Hall of Memory.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vetting? You gotta be kidding, it is always with a hindsight...

    I had the following incident in one of my previous jobs ~15 years ago.

    We were using a small contract manufacturer in UK to do test runs for us. In order to retrofit a certificate system for encrypting the traffic between our equipment we had to tidy up the manufacturing process, add cert generation, etc. So I had to go to the contract manufacturing facility and finalize the set-up.

    I show up there, hand in my passport at the entrance, have myself recorded in the visitor book, do my job and leave. 30 minutes after I am back at the office there is frantic panic call to our CEO about my visit with the manufacturer trying to blame us for a major DoD security breach. In those days I did not have the collection of passports I have today so I handed at the gate my Russian one.

    Apparently, a production line in the same facility was making some crap for Quinetic on one of DoD missile projects. So they let me sign in with the Russian passport, let me work inside the building bringing in equipment and taking out equipment for 3 hours and then they let me leave. When the shifts change and the next person at the gate opens the book it becomes a major incident. When they are told that actually my job is security the incident goes off the scale.

    So my boss comes to me and tells me: "Mate, you may have to get a security clearance, looks like only way to clear the incident". At which point I tell him that the likelihood of this happening is about as likely as Lucipher snowploughing hell because in addition to being a citizen of the "enemy", I have a whole slew of relatives on that side in interesting places including my granduncle being a general in a 3 letter abbreviated outfit. Gulp. So we decide to leave it at that.

    Apparently, the idiots at the factory still took my data from the visitor book and tried to do a background check. They even called to notify my company that: "You know, his granduncle is a general in XYZ" and were very shocked when they were told: "Yes we know, so what".

    In any case, based on my own experience, vetting for things like software and computing has been a hindsight affair up to as recent as 10 years ago. If not more recent.

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Vetting? You gotta be kidding, it is always with a hindsight...

      Whoops! This must be one of those Russian trolls the media keep telling us about.

      Seriously though, this sounds like another of those stories that should be headlining El Reg's light entertainment columns, rather than tucked away in the comments.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Vetting? You gotta be kidding, it is always with a hindsight...

      I remember Quinetic when it was still DERA. Lots of stuff I will never be able to talk about

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Vetting? You gotta be kidding, it is always with a hindsight...

        ditto, Malvern...

  8. beep54
    Meh

    Security?

    I'm not all that sure it has progressed all that much since then.

  9. smudge Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    CA Top Secret

    I was going to say "there used to be" a mainframe security suite called "Top Secret". But I just checked, and am amazed to see that it still exists.

    Anyway, legend has it that many support engineers have had everything bar the latex glove from security staff, when trying to exit spooky places with a set of manuals prominently displaying the product name.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: CA Top Secret

      A colleague found out that using old envelopes to jot notes on is NOT OK when leaving these types of places, when the envelope happens to be for a bank statement and therefore says "Private and Confidential".

      1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

        Re: CA Top Secret

        "A colleague found out that using old envelopes to jot notes on is NOT OK when leaving these types of places, when the envelope happens to be for a bank statement and therefore says "Private and Confidential"."

        Fortunately they'd stopped the practice by the time I got there, but at one place of work they had banned the use of pen and paper in one or the the large server rooms. Mobile phones were banned and the only phone in the room was a good 100 yards away from the machines I was looking after.

        The worst one was when I was asked to move gigabytes of data from a system in our building to one in that server room. This at midday Friday, with a deadline of Monday morning. Normally I would have used tapes for the job, but getting director level signatures to get the tapes in there on a Friday afternoon wasn't going to be practical.

        I sent the lot over the network instead, and it was all done by Sunday,. so the deadline was hit.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slighty different, but *user* training ...

    How about the cases where skinflint bosses hire new staff, sit them in front of (your) software package, with the helpdesk number, and expect the helpdesk to deliver £5,000 worth of training for free under the pretext of "support".

    Happened almost daily when I worked for a company that produced software for estate agents - easily the tightest tightwads in commerce. And I've worked in logistics, metrology, finance, and energy distribution.

    1. Craigie

      Re: Slighty different, but *user* training ...

      Estate agents, who get paid vast sums for doing almost nothing at all, are tightwads? Why does this not surprise me?

    2. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: Slighty different, but *user* training ...

      Always best to slip a "minimum training" clause into the support contract. From there, you can point out that being given an account and told to "Have fun" doesn't meet the bar.

    3. defiler Silver badge

      Re: Slighty different, but *user* training ...

      Christ. The hours I've wasted trying to talk people through using Word or Outlook, let alone an industry-specific application...

    4. mikeHingley

      Re: Slighty different, but *user* training ...

      Software for estate agents? Wouldn't be in the West Midlands, would it? - say round about Junction 3 M5?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re:Junction 3 M5?

        Well back in 2000 ... them moved in 2002, then taken over in 2005 ...

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Slighty different, but *user* training ...

      Real estate agents are, based upon over 2 decades of experience in direct sales, the single cheapest group of people in computing - they want all the kit, and mucho help (since a large majority know zilch about computers) but when you tell them the cost is higher than a pint of bitters at the local pub, they freak and end up buying chromebooks and netbooks and wonder why their multiple listings software is so slow, and why they can't seem to find anyone to help them learn how to open Word (a "borrowed" copy because well again, it costs more than a pint).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Slighty different, but *user* training ...

        Real estate agents are, based upon over 2 decades of experience in direct sales, the single cheapest group of people in computing

        One of our clients (letting agent) bought the cheapest laptop they could find in Tesco. It was bloody awful. How the hell he ever found a machine that could barely run Citrix Receiver, I'll never know...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: estate agents

        (no need for "real" in the UK)

        the biggest way they'd wind me up was to ring up about one of their properties not being on <insert website of your choice> and how it was losing them £20,000 in commission.

        You'd then add £1 to their support fee, and you'd have to listen for two hours about how they're reusing teabags because things are so bad.

        Without a doubt, the least favourite industry I ever worked in. Although apparenly lawyers are worse.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Slighty different, but *user* training ...

      I thought you did a typo there until I double checked and googled metrology. I never knew. Thanks for the new word.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: googled metrology

        Science of measurement. In my case weight measurement at weighbridges. It takes guts to turn up where lots of truckers congregate and not fix the problem ....

  11. Alan J. Wylie Silver badge

    My similar experience with core store in a defence establishment. At least I didn't get arrested!

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      It makes complete sense, that the "establishment" would insist on overwriting the failed core memory with a random pattern before letting it out of the place.

      But, if it's failed, how does one overwrite it? Well, one doesn't.

      So, the solution is to leave it with the security folks to be securely destroyed (I have images of little old ladies, *unstringing* the cores). Those things are expensive, but leaving the defective one for them to destroy seems like an easy way out, and just bill them for it.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "So, the solution is to leave it with the security folks to be securely destroyed (I have images of little old ladies, *unstringing* the cores). Those things are expensive, but leaving the defective one for them to destroy seems like an easy way out, and just bill them for it."

        These days, if an item has been used in a secure environment, or might have been used so in the past, then any system or component being replaced has to be left on site for destruction. That pretty much means anything that isn't just literally bare metal since pretty much all PC/server parts have some form of permanent programmable memory on board somewhere.

      2. VeganVegan

        "But, if it's failed, how does one overwrite it?"

        Just put the core frame on a big. powerful magnet...

  12. smilerbaker

    back in the day I worked for an outsourcer, we had a contract at a secure site basically installing some new kit and pc's. The site we worked on also happened to do some rather scary nasty stuff for the mod so a lot of areas where out of bounds and security was very tight indeed, high fences, cameras everywhere only one way in or out, badge access on every door, the usual.

    Anyway, step forward new guy, just hired and sent to our site, new guy decided it would be a good idea to try and smuggle his mate on site, at 11pm to go raiding the storeroom of new laptops, back when laptop cost around 6k a pop, security had a field day, of course as soon as he used his pass on the first door out of hours their consoles lit up, they video'd him and his mates every move from the second he entered the carpark and grabbed him as he left arms laden with boxed laptops, he came up with a lame excuse about taking them to install stuff on, of course he was fired. no idea what actually happened to him or his mate, the whole incident was quietly swept under the carpet, amazingly we kept the contract.

    another funny thing on that site, they had a cyanide alarm, and chemical suits outside, a nice sign saying in case of alarm put on a suit, there where about 6 of us in the room, and only 2 suits, I often wondered what would happen if the alarm ever sounded.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I don't have to run faster than the bear

      I only have to run faster than you

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sweet J. That new guy must have been the highest level of special!

  13. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Angel

    Training?

    The 'clean room' guys don't know how well off they are.

    In the dirty, greasy, ink-splattered world of industrial electronics you are still sent out on urgent repairs to kit you've never seen in your life before. This has frequently been much {cough} modified {cough} over the years, and in no way resembles any schematics (in the unlikely event they still exist). If the mechanics are modern (less than 30 years old) and European, you may have the luxury of all metric fittings, otherwise all bets are off. Electronics could be anything from pure relay control, through TTL/CMOS and PLCs of questionable capability... or any mixture of those.

    A few years back I was sent to fix a variable speed drive on a printing press. I was staggered to find this was built in the 1950s and used a variable reluctance system - quite ingenious, horribly inefficient, and something neither I nor any of my colleagues had ever seen before or since.

    Now get of my lawn :)

    P.S.

    Forgot to mention you've usually got an 'excitable' production manager hovering over you asking when it'll be fixed every few minutes.

    1. Saruman the White

      Re: Training?

      "... variable reluctance system ..."

      Sounds like an intern towards the end of the week.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Training - and retraining

    When I was hired years ago, we were supposed to have a 4-hour crash course in using the computer system. But the trainer knew that what he was supposed to show us wasn't related to our job functions, and we wouldn't remember it anyway in a couple months when we finally got access, so he zipped through it in about 45 minutes. Our REAL education was others in the department showing us how to do everything, plus a bit of exploration, and trying to figure out how to fix what we broke.

    Fast forward a number of years. I'm now considered one of the site experts for this system. We're upgrading to a new version of the same system - it's 95% identical to what we've been using for many years. But we have to read hundreds of pages of procedures on how to use it (I *wish* that was an exaggeration), and attend about 20 hours worth of classroom sessions. One memorable session was taught by the newest member of my department. He's good, definitely, but having been doing this several times longer than him, I was constantly several steps ahead of him in the demo...

    (AC and vague for obvious reasons.)

  15. EastFinchleyite

    Linky

    I think the two following statements may be linked

    1. ...... for a now defunct manufacturer

    2. "Many people would also have thought the mainframe manufacturer in question would have been expected to train me!"

    Perhaps competence was not high on the list of the manufacturers' values.

  16. -tim

    I was working at a USAF base and the CPU module wouldn't plug into a machine even though the test report said it had been working at the factory. I was in the data center late at night when the Lt Col asked what I was doing and I mentioned that I needed to cut the metal bracket just a bit but I needed to protect the board from the metal shavings and that had to be in an anti-static environment. He suggested I take it home after learning I did have the proper tools. I told him there is no way I was going to take that out of the machine room without the proper paperwork based on cost per ounce, it was more expensive that nearly everything else on the base there were were some very expensive things on that base.

  17. JaitcH
    FAIL

    Our Technician Was Stopped On The Way In!

    Back in the early '70s I worked for MDS (the now defunct Mohawk Data Sciences) and one of our clients was an atomic agency of the US government and the MDS technicians who serviced that account were especially cleared by the Secret Service.

    Being used for specialised purposes meant the MDS equipment was non-standard. In fact, our field service office had some of the equipment designers actually attached to our office, who were there for technical support. They were easily identifiable by their non-conformist 'hippie' style dress code and long hair.

    In one occasion there was a serious defect in the equipment, way beyond the scope of humble techs. So help was sought from one of our senior 'Hippies' who traveled on a particularly noisy hawg (motorcycle). The presence of such a character, along with his wheels, disturbed the quiescence of the armed gateman.

    Our Hippie was admitted into the car holding area, with serious looking gates on either side, whilst he was 'checked out'. A few minutes later a couple of suited gunslingers came out and said Hippie was to leave the premises.

    After some telephone calls ir was determined the problem could only be solved by our Hippie since he designed the custom system.

    Turns out Hippie had a 'criminal record' which, upon research, was determined to be a juvenile offence of breaking a window. He was permitted to enter, escorted by the gunslingers, and eventually resolved the problem.

    U.S. Security - can't be beaten for stupidity.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One time I DIDN'T get stopped....

    Once, many moons ago, I was working in Belfast, during the late seventies. So, quite an, er, interesting place to work at the time...

    I was standing in the queue at Heathrow, waiting for the daily shuttle to Belfast, when this sharply dressed man flashed some sort of ID at me and asked me whether I was going to Belfast for business or pleasure. I told him "Business", and he said "What sort of business?" I said "I'm installing a computer system for the RUC". That was the end of the conversation, and I was allowed back into the queue.

    (RUC - Royal Ulster Constabulary)

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: One time I DIDN'T get stopped....

      I was in a queue at Heathrow in the 1970s when a Germanic voice behind asked, "Vy do zey haff separate queue for Belfast?"

      An American voice further back remarked, "Gee, you haven't been here looong".

  19. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Golden Disk

    One of my colleagues had finished a project at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. (Yes, it was that long ago.) The staff there presented him with a golden disk: a DEC RK05 disk the size of a large dinner plate holding some 2.5 megabytes, the outside having been painted gold.

    Then he was stopped by security as he left the site. But they did let him go after phone calls and explanations.

  20. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Where I work..

    ..you could carry a grand piano out of the building and the guards would hold the door for you.

  21. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    My "issue" was much smaller ...

    After starting my first tech job I was sent to visit a government lab in the UK to repair a chart recorder in the early 70's - it was an easy fix, just clean the rails and sliders that the pens rode on and lubricate everything ... the staff in the lab took off for lunch when I fixed it.

    I got the job done, went over to the lunch room to tell them it was fixed and they came back an looked at it ... and started getting very upset. Apparently they were monitoring Chlorofluorocarbons and I'd cleaned and lubed the chart recorder with the standard set of aerosol sprays from my kit. All the other chart recorders were oscillating wildly - I'd completely trashed their data for that day.

  22. KBeee
    Happy

    I was vetted once before a job we were planning to do at Buck House. Turns out that once you've got your ID pass, you get 20% in the gift shop!

  23. JEDIDIAH
    Facepalm

    Training Schmaining.

    What kind of DOPE thinks that they can take ANY THING away from a secure facility? Even if you are dealing with a "normal" client, it seems like what he did would be just wrongful. I would expect that there would be an expectation to communicate with the client about everything you are doing including the replacement of faulty hardware and including taking the customer's property off site. I am not sure ANY ONE would be comfortable with the idea that their proprietary data might sprout legs and leave the building.This seems like a Sheldon-esque sort of gaffe.

  24. pixelgeek

    Ooh eh?

    Training!? I'll give you training!... In mah day, we used to clean it with a toothbrush and dance around on the motherboard singing hallelujah!

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