back to article Are you sure you've got a floppy disk stuck in the drive? Or is it 100 lodged in the chassis?

It is with great pleasure that El Reg welcomes you once more to On Call, your weekly dose of tech support traumas and triumphs. This time, we meet “Bruce” and “Sheila”. Bruce was working in the IT department at a petrochemical company in South Africa, while Sheila was a PA, who was very nice but terrible with computers. At …

  1. Winkypop Silver badge
    Flame

    Letters to Santa

    Sheila probably also put letters up the lum to Santa as a kid.

    1. Joeyjoejojrshabado
      Mushroom

      Re: Letters to Santa

      More likely Sheila put then straight on the fire. "It's just quicker that way"

  2. Olivier2553 Silver badge

    One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

    While it could happen that one floppy has been mistakenly inserted in the gap between drive and computer, I strongly doubt it had happened 100 times.

    Else the secretary would have called much earlier about the impossibility to remove the floppy.

    Beside, why always painting the secretaries as being stupid with computers? They use their machine all the time, they quite know what they are doing: thirty years ago, we had secretaries who were capable of typing some math documents into TeX/LaTeX.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      I'm inclined to agree, having taken service calls of the "I can't get the floppy out" type. More usually the user realised what they'd done and just needed assistance retrieving the disk.

      1. TonyJ Silver badge

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        Also inclined to agree.

        Late 80's on the first year of my electrical and electronic engineering course, one of the lads managed to stuff the 5.25" floppy into the crack above the FDD - not really out of stupidity or lack of understanding but simple lack of paying attention and carelessness.

        Of course, it was noticed immediately, much to our collective amusement (and also that slightly happy feeling it was someone else that did it).

        1. phuzz Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          On of my friends took it upon themself to change the CD in my car, while I'd got out for a moment.

          I came back to find them complaining that the machine wouldn't accept it, and a CD (not mine fortunately), jammed most of the way into the gap above the stereo.

          It was scratched to buggery so at least I didn't have to listen to their music.

      2. Knewbie

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        I was once called because the floppy wouldn't come out. This was (sic) at the time IBM PS2 were rolled out to users.

        That's also when the 3"1/2 floppies came out as standard on the desktops.

        When we got there we found out that the person didn't make the move to the new technology on time, didn't transfer his floppies to new ones, and we also found out that if you fold a 5" floppy in 4 it can be inserted in a 3" floppy slot...

        Official intervention was penned as PEBKAC, which subsequently became an official choice in our ticketing system.

    2. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      Sigh... those were the times. At a past job the secretary was not even able to form grammatically correct sentences. At least most of the time.

      The one at the next job was brilliant, though!

      1. The Man Who Fell To Earth
        WTF?

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        When was that, last week?

    3. Dave K Silver badge

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      It's a toughy, it depends on how dim the secretary was with computers. My main query is whether 100 floppies would fit in the case. A pile of 100 5.25" floppies must be a good 20cm high (assuming 2mm per floppy), so it'd have to be a very big case with a *lot* of free space in it.

      As for the "dumb secretaries" part, I believe it's mainly because secretaries of the era were no better or worse than the average person when it came to computer literacy, but they were some of the first to receive PCs for work due to the nature of their jobs. Hence, lots of old stories about secretaries being poor with computers.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        I can easily see 100 floppies fitting into one of those big old tower cases as described. If the HDD was mounted at the top, and the interior was as sparse as most were back in those days, maybe even 200+ ... The most I ever managed to pull out of one was ten, though. Went in to upgrade it to an awesome 4 megs of RAM ...

        1. Alister Silver badge

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          Yep, the full-height, floor-standing tower cases were basically filled with four-fifths of fuck all: a drive cage at the top in front, a PSU at the top at the back, and the motherboard somewhere on the side towards the bottom.

          1. J. Cook Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

            ... And one great big heaving piece of sheet metal* wrapped around the entire thing which required you to pull the entire damned thing out in order to remove or replace it.

            ::shudders::

            The less said about the quality of the stamped openings on the inside, the better- we called them 'Gillette' cases for a reason, and that's probably where the thing about offering up blood sacrifices to the computing gods came from...

            ::wanders off muttering something about kids, lawns, etc.::

            *might have been steel, might have been tinfoil, might have been nickel- whatever it was, it was a pain in the anus to remove and replace.

            1. M.V. Lipvig

              Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

              What made me feel old was the explanation at the end for the kids, telling them what a 3.5 and a 5.25 were. In a few more years they'll have to do the same for CDs.

            2. whbjr

              Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

              I've often said - I thought I was going into the Computer business, I didn't know I'd be a sheet-metal worker!

            3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

              Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

              IBM used to sell a deskside AIX/Unix system (before Power, pSeries and RS/6000) called a RT/6150, with space for three full sized 30MB ESDI disks.

              It was a very large tower case, fortunately a foil-lined plastic case rather than metal, which had a removable side to allow you access to the interior to get access to the large drives, 5.25" floppy and full length 16 bit ISA cards.

              The power supply ran the full width and whole depth of the case, and was mounted in the middle of it. It had a lip that you had to fit in a slot in the removable side, but for some design defect I could never fully fathom, the PSU dropped by about 5mm (it may have been because a locating lug for the PSU broke off, but I don't exactly remember).

              What I do remember is fighting to re-attach the side. No matter how you twisted it, pressed it, hit it or swore at it, it just would not go on. Until suddenly it did, and you were left wondering what you did differently that made it fit. But woe betide you if you took it off again to try to work it out, because it would then take twice as long to re-attach!

              After this, you would have thought that the industrial designers at IBM, who were normally very good, would have overcome this. But I found out later that the deskside RISC System/6000 G30 (one of the first SMP Power systems that was sold) suffered a very similar design, this time with a metal case, whose side would similarly not fit. But I suppose IBM could be excused a little, because they were a Groupe Bull design (Escala?), not a proper IBM system!

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

                Oh, gawd/ess. The RT ... there's a bastard child that I didn't need remembering this morning. IBM almost (but not quite) got each and every piece of the RT right, making the whole a miserable excuse for a computer, and a worse user/admin experience. It had one, and only one, redeeming feature: it came with a Model M keybr0ad. Even the port of 4.3BSD Reno to it didn't help. Like the rest of the machine, IBM only almost got it right. Every time I fire up mine (for maintenance on a very old industrial control contract), I can't wait to turn it off again.

        2. Olivier2553 Silver badge

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          Only, at the time of the story, tower case were not common...

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

            Tower cases were common long before 80 Meg hard drives were a normal upgrade option.

      2. Sykowasp

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        More like 1mm per floppy, for those old 5.25 inchers.

        Also, if there was an empty drive bay above the HDD bay they could easily have fitted in there.

        Also, I'm certain after 30 years there's a certain amount of exaggeration in this story. It's probably more likely to be 20 - 30 floppies.

      3. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        As for the "dumb secretaries" part, I believe it's mainly because secretaries of the era were no better or worse than the average person when it came to computer literacy, but they were some of the first to receive PCs for work due to the nature of their jobs. Hence, lots of old stories about secretaries being poor with computers.

        I met someone who claimed to have had the secretary that was the source for the following Essex girl joke:

        How do you know if your secretary is an Essex girl? Because of the Tippex on the monitor!

        She'd apparantly missed the training/familiarisation day for the "new fangled electronic typewriters".

        1. bpfh Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          Reminds me when my son was born in 2003, in France. We had to go get some paperwork from the town hall for a certificate of civil status. Normally, it's a plain operation, look up the name and birth details, Ctrl-P, 3 copies and buzz them out and off we go.

          "Oh but we only have 2 people able to do this, one is off sick, and the other one... is a bit......"

          and looks at us sideways....

          "well, lets just say that she refuses to use these new-fangled "computers", and she cannot do that because we cannot buy the ribbons for her typewriter any more so she cannot type up the certificates any more. Can you come back in 2 days and the other civil officer should be back and she will print them out immediately..."

          Some of them do walk among us...

          1. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

            "she cannot do that because we cannot buy the ribbons for her typewriter any more so she cannot type up the certificates any more"

            It's not because she is stupid. Rather the opposite, she is a public sector worker coming up with creative excuses to avoid having to do any actual work.

            Disclaimer: I live in France...

          2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

            "she refuses to use these new-fangled "computers""

            How do these people not get fired? Refusing to do your job?

            1. Mark 85 Silver badge

              Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

              How do these people not get fired? Refusing to do your job?

              Government employee.

        2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          Essex girl joke #2:

          Q) How do you know your Essex girl secretary was replaced by another Essex girl?

          A) There is writing over the Tippex.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          A former colleague recalls joining the Civil Service and being sent on a computer familiarisation course. The instructor had two floppies, one labelled A and the other B in large letters. There was also a desktop computer. The instructor announced "Now this is mouth A and this is mouth B". At which she put up her hand and said "My husband is a computer scientist, I have a degree, can I come back after the baby talk?"

        4. DiViDeD Silver badge

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          Well, back in the dark ages, I was at STC in South Wales (this was soon after the name change from Standard Telephone Cables when manglement spent a lot of times telling us that STC didn't stand for anything - it was 'just STC now')

          A prospective PA walked through the Purchasing section, and the first words out of her mouth were "Duw, you got a lot of tellies here!"

          1. MrNigel

            Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

            ....when I worked for STC in the late 70's it stood for "Standards Travelling Circus" or "Sack The C**t" depending on whether you were management or a worker. I still miss my TXK3 commissioning days in the Glasgow area, character forming stuff!

      4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        Back in those days, no one in the general public was computer literate even by the most generous standards. Depending on how much training the got, which often was virtually none, they often would be found floundering when they first had to use a computer. The administrative staff often got them first since they could type unlike most of the other staff. And the administrative staff probably was the least technically savvy in the company though it might a slim margin over most of the professionals. So the admin staff was often floundering with no help as they struggled to learn how to use the beasts.

        1. MrBanana

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          Yes, with no home PC ownership in those days, computer literacy would be nonexistent until you got shoved into a job that required it. But I do wonder that the user in question knew enough such that they had watched colleagues use floppy disks, saw they were slow, but didn't pay enough attention to put the media into the correct slot in their own PC.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

            Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

            My users to borrow a phrase "Are not the sharpest fork in the toaster", the amounts of people that have to be walked through even the simplest of operations has lead me to script a menu that fires out the required "How To's......" e-mails, add any custom comments & gives me a copy to paste into the call resolution notes.

            Just when I think I have made it self explanatory for the dumbest of users, another one comes along to take up the title of idiot missing its village (requiring another re-write), are challenged that they really can't tell the difference between "Sleep,logout, restart & shutdown, its got to the point where I fire up another scripted remote tool to pull up the last system boot time*, before I even ring up a user regarding the ticket.

            Infact I might even script a automatic shutdown\restart for 4 hours after the e-mail goes out, with a comment that pointing out the machines last start up time.

            *The record of oldest system boot up this year was topped 34 minutes before beer o'clock today with 28th January 2019.

        2. Rol Silver badge

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          It is totally believable.

          I went from a secondary school with no computers, to an A level computer studies course at my local college.

          Prior to starting the course I wandered into the computer room during lunch, where several students were busily engaging with some of the dozen or so Commodore PETs, scattered about the room.

          I tentatively sat in front of one of the idle machines and stared expectantly at the flashing cursor under the "Ready" text and wondered "What now?"

          So I typed in "What is today's date?"

          The response was an instant "Syntax error"

          Thinking I'd somehow upset it, I quietly got up and wandered off.

          Fast forward some 6 months and nearly every idle computer was running my "idiot" program, which perfectly reproduced the welcome screen, complete with flashing cursor. The program itself went on to capture all keyboard input, reproducing it as expected on the screen while scanning an ever growing list of responses to an ever growing list of "dumb things people type into computers"

          And yes, noobies would come in and type "what is today's date" and the program would give the correct answer, hence reinforcing their sci-fi sourced level of computer understanding - that they truly are intelligent machines, which, basically, was the default setting for 99% of the population back then.

          Actually. Now I think about it, I recall most noobies walked away from the "playful" interaction with these infected machines grimacing, vowing revenge for the horrid manner in which they had been "talked" to.

    4. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      OK, I doubt it was a hundred, but I don't doubt it could have been a whole box... My own experience tell me this story is not even that special. I also don't have anything against secretaries, however they were generally the people trying to do the most "complex" tasks that were not techies.

      Generally firms bean-counters assumed that a couple of hours familiarisation was enough because the PC with a word processor is "similar" to an electronic typewriter... I did enjoy repeatedly having to go and visit some of them though, and benefitted from this on occasion as they were the real source of power in many cases.

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        True. The two I chatted to were old skool and had been there since the 70s. Now both retired. Both were professional typists but didn't know that much about computers. But knew their area well. Good at typing, good at Word and Excel, good at creating macros for themselves within said packages to make tasks easier and very good at shorthand. Although not a good idea writing your passwords in plain sight, one did it in shorthand, knowing pretty much all the other staff didn't understand what it said, I believe the shorthand was unique to her as she'd adapted it. One is long retired, other one only a year. But in that time no longer uses a PC or shorthand so has forgotten it all.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      Secretaries I can't really speak for. But we have users that are on their computers day in, day out. And they're still clueless.

      I fully understand that not everyone 'gets' computers, or are interested to the degree that I am. But some people seem completely incapable of learning, either from scratch, or from previous experience, or even just using the smallest iota of common sense.

      1. Spanners Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        I fully understand that not everyone 'gets' computers, or are interested to the degree that I am.

        That would be easy to understand but the thing that irritated me was the attitude that "I am better than you because I don't get computers."

        This attitude is, happily, much less common than it was but I still come upon reminders of it. Being (hopefully) good at IT does not make me better than anyone else but neither does it make you superior when you can't confirm that your computer is plugged in

        Someone might be better than me because they can make chocolate cake or because they are a nurse but not being able to do something like IT has as much to make "you" superior as my not being able to juggle makes me better than someone who can.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          1992, marketing director helpless because his secretary was on holiday and he was unable to do any work. Only a week before he had actually boasted "I don't know how to use a computer, I've never had to do a menial job."

          You might think excusable, but he was supposed to be dealing with a load of customer statistics.

          Because I am a bastard, I did not suggest lending him one of my engineers, all of whom were by then Excel wizards. After all, he wouldn't want a menial engineer looking at his numbers.

    6. big_D Silver badge

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      Oh, they can really be that stupid. They can also be very good... It just depends, like any other profession. I've had good users and bad in most departments and positions.

      Perhaps the biggest disruption was moving to WordPerfect 5.1 with laser printers with proportional fonts! Very few of the secretaries had use the tabulator on the old manual typewriters, or the first word processing system or the first PCs with DisplayWrite 4. They just used spaces.

      Then, along came WP5.1, a 1 day training course, with over an hour dedicated to tabs and proportional fonts and still the most common call to the helpdesk afterwards was that the tables lined up on the screen (non-proportional fonts on a DOS screen, but didn't line up when printed (Times New Roman proportional on the printer).

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        "Perhaps the biggest disruption was moving to WordPerfect"

        At my place of work we had a brief foray with Linux and one of the office suites (it didn't work out, back to Windows).

        Anyway, it became readily clear who actually understood what a word processor/spreadsheet was for, and who was completely and utterly lost because the stuff they expected to find "here" (menu, icon, etc) was in a different place. Some of them were even like "the fourth option down on the menu on the left does this" rather than reading it and noticing that maybe it's now the sixth item down...

        I guess some people are taught concepts, and others are taught exactly what they needed to know and nothing else.

        Oh, yeah, when we went back to Windows we'd finally ditched XP. Cue new software, same as the old, but with everything in different places. Much more head scratching and "this isn't the same as I remember it" comments.

      2. dajames Silver badge

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        Very few of the secretaries had use the tabulator on the old manual typewriters,...

        I rather doubt that ... anyone who'd done a typing course would have been trained to use the mechanical tabulator of a manual typewriter and had to demonstrate that use to get a certificate.

        I can certainly believe that the TAB functions of early wordprocessors were not explained well enough (or at all) to secretaries converting from manual typewriters to electronic systems, and I can certainly believe that the electronic analogues of the manual tabulator settings were not sufficiently like them for their use to be obvious.

        Anyway, that's all in the past. Now we just type text into a table and set the column widths later, once we know how wide they need to be. Tabulators belong in the manual age.

    7. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      At Uni where I was occasionally helping people out I had a friend (doing a not computer related degree) who complained that her work had gone missing. I asked her where she was saving it to and she proudly produced a floppy disc. She then showed me how she'd save it on the disc and come back to it the next day. However she showed me she was saving it to C: - specifically to a folder she had created called "A" that had now vanished. She did this because someone had told her to save it to the A drive. She had automatically seen the drive contents listed for the C drive and had naturally saved everything there in the A folder. She didn't realise that folders weren't drives and just assumed it was saving to the floppy because it was always there when she got in each day and put the floppy in.

      The problem was the disc had proved to be empty when she was using her new housemates computer the night before. When she'd got into college the folder had disappeared there too and now she was frantic. The floppy needless to say when I checked it was completely blank. I asked if this was always the PC she used and yes it was apparently she got in every morning just as the college library opened. Therefore she had her pick of the computers and chose the one by the window so she got "More of the natural light". I asked one of the librarians if anything had changed with the computers and yes IT had taken one away for a service. In this case it meant a deep clean of both the internals and the hard drives.

      I knew from talking to an IT bloke previously that the deep clean would have been a virus check followed by what we would now call a re-imaging of the drive. Fearing the worst I proceeded to check the other PC's that weren't being used hoping that one had just been moved. I eventually found the one with a folder marked "A" and a load of chapters of her dissertation. This was saved to the floppy and a bit of education on what drive were and what the difference between the C and A drives were. I told her to back up the stuff to at least one other disc as well just in case because she didn't want it going missing again did she? A few drinks later in the Union and she told me that she'd originally applied for a computing degree but hadn't got the grades the first time round. After retaking her A-levels she'd applied for the sociology course she was now on. I thought and she happily admitted that everyone had a lucky escape there.

      1. Daveytay

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        Did you marry her? Sounds like a keeper. A good marriage is made of complementary people, mine is 19 years strong now :)

        1. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge
          Angel

          Re: Did you marry her? (was One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts)

          When I was in the drawing office, an influx of school leavers were assigned, one to each department. Ours was a cute little thing, very easy on the eye, but severely lacking between the ears, we gave her the nickname "The Little Goldfish" because that was about the length of her attention span. She was completely innumerate, and made a complete hash of our filing system as she couldn't understand that drawing numbers are issued sequentially, and just filed any drawing in any drawer, no matter what it's subject matter was. Her next assignment was in the Post Room, but that only lasted a week because her method of sorting the mail was random, and you would be lucky if your mail ended up in the right building, let alone in the right department. Only thing she was any good at was making tea and coffee, so that's where she ended up, in the Catering Department, pushing a trolley with a tea urn around the factory. Even that caused trouble, work used to stop completely while she was on the factory floor, all the blokes were too busy ogling her as she went past. The Union was up in arms when the management decided to "let her go", so she was reassigned to pushing a trolley around the front office instead, where there were predominantly female employees. I left some three years later, and she was still there, pushing that trolley.

      2. Trixr Bronze badge

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        If it was any time in the last 20 years, you can add "failure to read computing services advice sheet" to her list of sins.

        Any university I worked at:

        a) HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommended that students use the backed-up network drive provisioned explicitly for the purpose of saving their highly-important assignments even if you saved it to floppy for working on at home. In fact, the first uni I worked at in 98 recommended that students save it to their home drive and email it to themselves at "Hotmail" or Yahoo or whatever.

        b) provided a 1-page guide that was handed or sent to each student when their account was registered that provided such gems of advice. Directly after the information on their account name, email address, etc, so maybe that was the problem.

    8. macjules Silver badge

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      Rule #1: Never, ever underestimate the potential stupidity of a user when faced with technology.

      Rule #2: Always be prepared to encounter a really simple explanation for the very worst IT disasters

      Rule #3: Never lose your temper with users - next time they may try and fix the problem themselves.

      1. Spanners Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        Rule 4: Users lie.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

          "Rule 4: Users lie."

          You're off by four, that is rule zero ;)

    9. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      Beside, why always painting the secretaries as being stupid with computers?

      Maybe the quality level has dropped?

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

        I find it entirely believable... having worked as a TV repairman. Especially when I took the back off a faulty set, only to be faced with a cascade of shillings.

    10. Persona Bronze badge

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      My twin daughters managed much the same with CDROM's. The only stopped at 30 CD's because that was all we had. In their defence, they were quite young: about 3 or 4 years old.

    11. Grease Monkey

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      I'm with you on that. She was saving to c: instead of a: because it was faster? But surely the only reason to save to the floppy drive is to make the file portable. So this endeavour must have failed in the first attempt when the floppy wasn't available to transport the file elsewhere.

      At best therefore I suspect that this tale has been somewhat embellished.

    12. jacquesfrancis

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      One of the secretaries called to tell me that her computer wasn't working. A nearly new Windows 3.11 Dell, it would have been. She was right. It wouldn't boot, with Windows complaining that scores of files were missing. 'Have you changed anything?' I asked. 'No' she replied, with the sort of frank and honest countenance that users adopt when they know they've fucked up massively and think they might be able to get away with it.

      Looking more closely at the content of the disk, it appeared that most of the operating system had disappeared, which I remarked on. 'Oh, yeah, I had a bit of a tidy up,' she told me. The tidying had involved deleting as many files and directories she didn't recognise as possible, 'to make more space'. Which she didn't need. Wasn't 30Mb big enough for anybody, for God's sake? I reloaded Windows from twenty or so floppy disks. On the positive side, nobody could ever accuse her of inserting things in the wrong place, as in the lady in the main story.

    13. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One, OK, hundred, I have my doubts

      If you think 100 floppies wouldn't fit in the chassis, you are too young to remember the early computer systems. It was about 200mm high, about 400mm wide, and about 600mm deep. A floppy disk was about 133mm x 133mm x 1.6mm. You could fit 169 floppies into an empty chassis, and in those days the chassis was mostly empty. You had a PSU, a graphics card, and a serial card, an FDD and (if you were lucky) an hdd, and usually nothing else. No heatsinks or fans. Oh, and the 1.6mm width was ... negotiable. They were easily compressed.

      Something that was not published here was that (almost) everyone else's computer booted off a boot prom over an IPX network, and that the secretaries were given an HDD so that they could boot and work when the LAN was down (happened often - early 10base2 ethernet).

      What was also left out is that only the PAs to senior managers got HDDs, and that, for security reasons, they were supposed to save local copies of all important files onto floppies that were locked in a special floppy lockbox that was then locked in their draws (not even close to my idea).

      "Sheila" either assumed the disks were safe in the computer, or that the computer chassis was the lockbox. These were the days when we believed people would follow policies without having to be policed. She had never had reason to physically give the floppy disk to anyone before this.

      As to secretaries being dumb - at the time this happened, PCs were nowhere near a common thing. I saved up for 2 years to buy my first IBM PC XT, and then spent about 5 days trying to figure out why it wouldn't turn on properly before realising I needed a DOS boot-disk. Not understanding even the most basic things about computers was not stupidity, it just was the way things were. The problem was people who felt their seniority and reputation would be diminished if they had to ask younger people for help or advice. "Sheila" liked to be thought of as senior and important, despite being a very nice person.

  3. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Greetings from South Africa!

    Is it only me, or was floppies (1.2M) in general more reliable than stiffies (1.44M)?

    When going to site it was usual for us to copy a program or whatever we need to three (or more) stiffies as you would always get a CRC error on the other side when trying to copy the program back.

    At that time not everybody had modems, and it was quicker just to copy whatever you need to stiffy, carry it to site, and copy it back than trying to squeeeeeeeeeeeeze it over a rinkydinky dial-up link.

    1. defiler Silver badge

      Poor quality stiffies. There's a pill for that.

      Or it could be late in the lifespan of the floppy when drives were made shoddily badly and the head alignment was a bit "variable", but that timescale doesn't easily line up with your 1.2MB discs.

    2. Olivier2553 Silver badge

      Is it only me, or was floppies (1.2M) in general more reliable than stiffies (1.44M)?

      And in turn, stiffies are more reliable than CD...

      Few years back, I was transferring older student work from removable devices to online library. I hardly had any problem (once I had located a reader) to read the 15 years old stiffies, but had very little chance with 5 years old CD.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

        You've complained Oranges are not apples. :/

        1. Baldrickk Silver badge

          Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

          Home writeable CDs at least.

          Thankfully stamped CDs are not subject to the same degredation, or I wouldn't have a physical music collection at all.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

            No storage medium is very good. For important stuff, there is no remedy for having to store it on multiple media. It's annoying, but whenever you don't and the data is important enough or needed after long enough, something will be broken. We could probably have a long discussion of what the most reliable type of media is, but I'm going to stick with my personal observation: redundant media.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

              For the record, I've still got tape from the 1960s that reads/writes/works just fine ... both "IBM" 9 track and DEC's LINCtape.

              1. doublelayer Silver badge

                Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

                And I have home-written CDs from the 1990s that also still read fine, but that doesn't mean that the medium is generally reliable. I've heard of several types of tape that disintegrate with relatively short shelf-times. I'm glad yours works, and maybe that type of tape is more reliable as well, but that doesn't mean that tape or even that type of tape is necessarily going to work.

            2. Public Citizen
              Boffin

              Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

              Fired Pottery.

              As demonstrated by the massive amounts of clay tablets with cuneiform writing on them.

              1. Richard 12 Silver badge
                Flame

                Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

                Back when burning down the library was a great idea...

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

                It is gradually being realised that the civilisation in this country over 4000 years ago (that built, inter lots of alia, Stonehenge) was probably as advanced in its way as that of the Middle Eastern city states - but archaeologists need evidence, and clay tablets and stone in a dry climate last a lot longer than wood in a wet one.

              3. jake Silver badge

                Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

                The only problem with fired pottery is that we've lost the hardware to read it.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

                  Actually archaeologists are doing pretty well.

                  It was discovered some years ago that the clay tablets of one of the city states - I think Sumer- were part of a database; they recorded the property and animals of each peasant and were possibly used to calculate his grain and oil entitlement in bad years, from the food collected for storage. Scientific American suggested that a better title than "priest" would be "database technician".

                  1. jake Silver badge

                    Re: CDs were always noted as sub 5 year lifespan.

                    Archaeologists are tasked with digging up the past, not deciphering it. In this case, deciphering is the realm of the cuneiformists of the world, of which we are severely lacking in numbers. Last I heard, only around 2 or 3% of all the tablets ever found have actually been read/translated. Note the translation happens in wetware, which is slow for this kind of thing. It would be a lot faster if we had the afore mentioned hardware.

                    Instead of database technician, I prefer accountant. Writing was developed to ensure the GreatUnwashed pay their taxes. Followed immediately with a raise in said taxes to pay for it, no doubt. Politicians have always been evil.

                    (Disclaimer: I started learning cuneiform in it's various guises when I was young and deluded, thinking one could actually make a living contributing to knowledge of the past. Perhaps I'll take it up again if I ever retire. There has GOT to be something of interest in all those unread tablets besides "<this year> billy-bob had 15 she-goats with kids, harvested 22 bushels of wheat and made 75 gallons of wine and 40 pounds of cheese" and the like ... wouldn't it be cool to be the first to read it after 5,000 years?)

      2. spodula

        Reliability

        Depends on the Era. I have a bunch of 720k floppes from my Amiga days in the late 80s and 90s that still work fine. The quality seems to have gone downhill from about there. I personally wouldnt trust any floppies manafactured after about 1995 at all.

        My original BBC Elite disk 5.25" floppy still works fine.

        1. Richard Crossley
          Alien

          Re: Reliability

          Upvote for BBC Micro Elite

        2. phuzz Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Reliability

          Amigas used 880k floppy disks, although they could also ready 720k MSDOS formatted disks* with the right program.

          * FAT12 IIRC

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Reliability

            I remember ~40 years ago at school we had RM 380Z's with 100kB floppy drives and those of us keen on computing were issued with limited numbers of floppies to use .... we soon discovered that while the floppies stated that they were single sided and the drives were only single side that careful use of a hole punch to add the required holes in the card cover for the rotational position detector and the write enable notch allowed us to double the amount of stroage available by putting the floppy in "upside down" so the drive used the reverse side.

            I also remember writing a program that allowed two machines to connect via serial cables so that we could copy contents of the 8" floppies that one machine had to the 5.25" floppies uses on all the others (seem to recall RM asking for a copy as they need to do the same and hadn't got a solution themselves!)

            1. GlenP Silver badge

              Re: Reliability

              we soon discovered that while the floppies stated that they were single sided and the drives were only single side that careful use of a hole punch to add the required holes in the card cover

              This was one of the causes of unreliability, the inserts in the single sided disks were typically from batches that had failed testing for double sided. Didn't stop us doing it though!

              I also remember writing a program that allowed two machines to connect via serial cables

              I thought Kermit was around by then but double checking it may not have been (it launched in 1981). I was using a 380Z from around 1979-1982.

            2. Alister Silver badge

              Re: Reliability

              careful use of a hole punch

              Hmm, recalls to mind the probably apocryphal tale of the secretary who filed 5 1/4 floppies by stapling a piece of paper to them with a list of their contents...

              Guess where the staples went...

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Reliability

                Not apocryphal, I've seen it. The floppies contained the results of the burn-in process, and were stapled to the paperwork (checklist) for the final physical QA and the BOM as boxed for shipping, and then filed by part number and serial number. I discovered it when I was brought in as a consultant to streamline the manufacturing process.

                It wasn't the secretary's fault, though. The process was lovingly documented by Advanced Manufacturing, the department tasked with ensuring the company's ISO certification status ... right down to the location and angle of the staple, ensuring the media got not one, but two punctures. Not a single example that I tested was readable. But they were ISO certified!

                I have also seen people use push-pins to pin floppies to cube walls. What is amazing is that the floppies often worked, and continued working for months, after this treatment. It would seem that there is more empty space in those corners than most folks realize.

                The one that floored me was the field engineer who opened the back of a server, pulled the diagnostic floppy off the inside of the door where it was affixed with a magnet ... and the fucking thing still worked! Observing my surprise, he just shrugged and said "I know. I don't get it either. They did it this way for years before I got here. I don't ask questions, I just go by the playbook and collect my pay." He claimed to have seen tens of these things, and the disk was only dead once.

                1. Trollslayer Silver badge
                  Flame

                  Re: Reliability

                  ISO 9001 means that you do what you say.

                  It doesn't check that what you say is right.

                  1. Bruce Ordway

                    Re: Reliability

                    >> ISO 9001 means that you do what you say.

                    Floppy drives and ISO remind me of the same the 1980s.

                    I remember there being a build libraries for company processes.

                    The goals were to improve efficiency and consistency by reducing the reliance of employees on their memories.

                    That site received ISO certification, all employees use computers and they are still manufacturing capital equipment today. I'm just not sure the changes led to the production of more/better products.

                    One thing I notice today is that fewer employees seem to have good memories. (and those that do have good memories don't seem nearly as valuable as they once were).

                    1. Dave559

                      Re: Good memories

                      Few of us have good memories nowadays because of the sheer amount of stuff we would have to try to remember these days (passwords, phone numbers, email addresses, to think of just a few). I'm sure that much of my brain space that could perhaps be used for remembering phone numbers is taken up with numerous passwords instead, and then when you also consider that my phone remembers the phone numbers for me there is then even less ability to remember any of them on my part...

                2. Baldrickk Silver badge

                  Re: Reliability

                  Floppy attached by magnet: It's the movement of magnetic fields (relative to the media) that destroys the data.

                  Presumably, the magnet was weak enough and the movement to pull it off aligned with the field well enough that the loss of signal on the disk was minimal.

                  If the floppy didn't have much data on it, diagnostic or not, then the corruption of data may have mostly affected blank sectors?

              2. Ken Shabby Bronze badge
                FAIL

                Re: Reliability

                And backed up the floppies with a photocopier.

            3. bobajob12
              Pint

              Re: Reliability

              Skimming through the comments at great speed my eyes caught "380Z" and my brain thought "interesting! I'll read that comment." Then my eyes saw the "40 years ago", my brain confirmed the maths, and I suddenly felt very old.

              So I had one of these --->

              1. GordonScally

                Re: Reliability

                Yes I remember using one also in the late 70's at our local college. As I recall a memory upgrade to 64k burnt a large hole in their budget!

                1. Martin J Hooper

                  Re: Reliability

                  I remember the 380Z as being the big black box shaped server in one corner of the room with a load of 480Z's attached to it.

                  Slow af when the whole class wanted to save at the end of the lesson...

                  Also remember Econet the BBC Micro network too - Still can remember how to login to that network!

            4. dajames Silver badge

              Re: Reliability

              ... we soon discovered that while the floppies stated that they were single sided and the drives were only single side that careful use of a hole punch to add the required holes in the card cover for the rotational position detector and the write enable notch allowed us to double the amount of stroage available by putting the floppy in "upside down" so the drive used the reverse side.

              You could even buy a "flippy disk kit" to help punch the hole and the notch in the right place. I may still have a copy of Byte with an advert for one ...

            5. rototype

              Re: Reliability

              They used to sell these for the BBC specifically called 'Flippies'

          2. fwadman

            Re: Reliability

            There were double density and high density disks. In theory the only difference was the quality of the magnetic material on the disk (older double density had iron oxide … newer and high density moved to Colbalt) and the high density disks had another hole in the casing so the drive could detect it.

            The 880K / 720K etc difference was due to the different disk formats used (on double density disks) by Amiga and PC. The physical disk was the same.

            Just like people used to turn over single sided 5 1/4 floppies and write on the other side - with newer double density disks you could just drill a hole in the casing and use as high density

        3. rototype

          Re: Reliability

          Mine don't, worn out

    3. juice Silver badge

      As I understand it, 5.25 disks were generally more reliable because they were both physically bigger and lower capacity; the wider "tracks" and longer pulses naturally made them more fault tolerant.

      OTOH, they were physically less robust, though arguably that helped to remind people to treat them with more respect, unlike their 3.5 brethren which would often be slung unprotected into briefcases or school bags, or even used as coffee mats...

      1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

        Large floppies

        I seem to recall that only real reliability problems with 5.25" disks occurred when reading a 360k floppy on a 1.2MB drive. Smaller heads vs larger track sizes. Just not quite compatible

        1. dajames Silver badge

          Re: Large floppies

          I seem to recall that only real reliability problems with 5.25" disks occurred when reading a 360k floppy on a 1.2MB drive. Smaller heads vs larger track sizes.

          The problems occurred when trying to read such a disk on a 40-track drive after it had been written on both a 40-track and an 80-track drive. The disk's oxide coating would have a wide track written on the 40-track drive with a narrower track written over it by the 80-track drive. This could be read without a problem on an 80-track drive but a 40-track drive would read both the old and new tracks together and get confused.

          Moving such a disk between two different 80-track drives could also cause problems if either or both drives were a bit out of alignment ... but when drives start to lose their alignment you're going to get problems sooner or later whatever disk you use.

      2. Paul Shirley

        There's probably an element of less tracks per inch on larger formats making radial positioning error less of a problem. Unless you were using the C64 5 1/4" drive, that bastard just loved ramming its head hard against the endstops even in normal use. I think it's recalibration routine depended on doing it!

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Endstop recalibration

          I don't know about C64 5.25" drive head position recalibration, but you just described the operation of an Apple ][ disk drive. Upon start, the head would be moved for 40 tracks to reach track zero (of 36) as there was no indicator where it was. After that initial move, the position was kept in memory until the next restart.

          1. usbac

            Re: Endstop recalibration

            Yeah, the distinct grinding sound each time you powered up an Apple ][. The thing is, those drives were built very well.

            I recently dug out my old Apple ][ from the garage. It had been sitting there since the last time I moved (18 years ago) out in the open with about an inch of dust on the thing. A quick blowing out with some compressed air, and boom, it works. I pulled out a box of floppies I had from about 1982, and all but a couple of them would boot and read correctly. I even had an original Apple DOS disk dated 1977 that still booted.

            I sold the whole thing on ebay recently for what I considered a stupid amount of money for an old Apple. Oh well, as long as someone is willing to pay that much, I guess?

            1. J. Cook Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: Endstop recalibration

              Yep. I recently fired up the ol' IIe that's been sitting around in my computer archive for the past.... ten years or so. the duo drive that I got it with was fine, and one of the two single drives that I got with a (non-functional) IIgs worked as well; the other one needs a head calibration, and I don't have the stuff to do that without some serious digging around.

              1. rototype

                Re: Endstop recalibration

                I remember them, a box called a disk drive exerciser - think I've still got one in the garage if you'd like it (for a fee of course...)

      3. AustinTX

        For a while, many of us data hounds were using utilities which formatted 360k disks to store 800k on a 1.2MB DSDD drive. Eventually, I transferred a garbage bag full of disks onto a couple of Zip disks... :)

      4. dajames Silver badge

        [5.25" disks] were physically less robust ...

        They were still pretty tough, though.

        I recall preparing a software update for a rather specialized bit of kit, which (somewhere down the line) was mailed to the customer. The secretary given the job of sending it out folded it in half and put in in an envelope and put it in the post.

        The customer returned it, unsurprisingly, and the guy responsible for the product asked me to make another copy of the upgrade. I was a bit busy, and suggested that he try to diskcopy the folded disk just in case it turned out to be readable despite the fold.

        To my surprise and his utter astonishment it copied perfectly!

      5. rototype

        Tell me about it - I used to work in a school and became very adept at removing the metal covers from discs from the drives they had been jammed in.

        The students were supposed to keep their discs in a protective cover at all times when they were not being used but often this did not happen (translation - maybe 10%) as a result the metal cover would become battered and inevitably the sides would spring out and as the discs would usually go in, the metal would then spring back and prevent them being removed, not that this stopped the students, they'd usually just pull until the disc came out minus metal cover. (occasionally they'd be good and put their hand up and say they couldn't get their disc out, but since this usually meant trouble for not keeping it in the cover the quickly stopped doing this).

        The next lesson someone couldn't use the drive and we were eventually called, sometimes they'd even trace the culprit (depending on the teacher) and since it was a private school the parents would be billed for a new floppy drive.

        The moral of this story is if you get the metal off a floppy stuck in the drive, 2 expansion blanking plates and a bit of wiggling are often your saviour. (I mus have unclogged dozens of drives and only once lost a drive, and I think that was on the way out anyways).

    4. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Data density

      Is it only me, or was floppies (1.2M) in general more reliable than stiffies (1.44M)?

      The 1.2M drive's tracks are a little wider (alignment less critical and better signal) as well as having some more distance between them. But I haven't really encountered any noticeable difference in reliability between them as long as you didn't go with bargain-bin no-name disks.

    5. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Times and politics being what they were, perhaps the 3½ inch discs available in South Africa weren't the best quality.

      Also, I think I remember stiffy discs rated single-sided or regular ("double" density) that you could "upgrade" to double-sided and/or "high" density by clipping a piece off the square "envelope" containing the disc, which would affect a switch in the drive reading the disc type within the same envelope size. This was alleged to work, which it did sometimes, because the low density or single-sided discs tended to be high density or double-sided discs that failed testing at the better quality standard.

      Oh, and weren't there 40 track and 80 track discs the same size, and an 80 track drive could overwrite data on the 40 track disc... but only overwrote half of it, so it wouldn't read back in the 40 track drive any more.

      1. anothercynic Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        South Africa's discs...

        As much as you might slag off South Africa for various things, its ICT sector was very much avantgarde, thank you very much. Dysan were *the* brand to buy when it came to high-quality discs, as were Verbatim. There were some no-name brands, but they all were of pretty good standard. They were *always* marked as HD or SD (HD being 1.44MB on 3.5" 'stiffies' or 1.2MB on 5.25" floppies, SD being the appropriate 720K or 360K). The 80MB hard drives were still big in the early nineties.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, sneakernet.

      In my limited experience, the 1.2Mbyte 5 1/4 inch drives were found in well made professional machines while the 90mm "stiffies" were quickly adopted by more second rate manufacturers, so the difference in drive quality explained the better reliability of the 1.2Mbyte drives. Except for Macs - early Macs had good quality 90mm drives and I never had a problem with them.

  4. Rudolph Hucker the Third
    FAIL

    I didn't get where I am today without speeding up software distribution via 5.25" floppy discs.

    We sent customers a fax with a picture of a 5.25" floppy disc on it.

    Along with the instructions:

    "This is the new improved software distribution method. Please cut-out around the dotted line and insert in the floppy disc drive."

    We did get a call from one customer :

    "I've got it in but it's not working, and I can't get the disc out!!!"

    Well, it was April 1st.

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      I wonder if that isn't half way possible... you made me think of Flexi discs - low quality 7" plastic discs to played at 45 rpm on a record player that were given away on magazines... and then made me think of the magnetic ink that uses to be used on cheques... and then if it would be possible to print a floppy disc with magnetic ink. Low low data density, obviously, and the drive would require custom firmware to read it. Hmmm. There was that bloke who used a 3D printer to print a record - the song was recognisable even though it sounded underwater.

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Boffin

        Technically possible? Probably.

        But why would you? You have to get the data to the printer at the remote site and back in the 90s we had things called "modems" which meant that the data could go straight into a computer rather than having to go via another device/media first.

        You could also just print the data (in whatever format is suitable. Morse code would work) and then scan that in optically. But that'd be too close for comfort to how punchcards worked.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Wasn't there an official document about using carrier pigeons for data transfer?

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            RFC1149

            As official as it gets.

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge
            2. Yes Me Silver badge
              Headmaster

              Re: RFC1149

              Out of date. Try RFC6214.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: RFC1149

                Not out of date. See section 3, I quote "Unless otherwise stated, the provisions of [RFC1149] and [RFC2460] apply throughout."

                Many people aren't running the clusterfuck known as IPv6, for many reasons. The RFC takes this into account.

      2. MrBanana

        Data storage on vinyl

        I have a 12" single by Kissing The Pink called The Other Side Of Heaven. Track B1 is a data sample that you can record to a cassette and then load onto a BBC Model B. When run, it would generate a video effect on the monitor that was sort of synced to the audio track on A1. I tried it once and it did actually work. Not sure if a 7" flexi disc, or a 3D printed record, would have enough fidelity though.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: Data storage on vinyl

          I have a 12" single by Kissing The Pink called The Other Side Of Heaven.

          Aha, that's the one. I knew there was such a record by one of the British New Wave bands as the record library I was volunteering with at the time had it in its collection, but my brain kept suggesting Fiction Factory even though I could not find a title that appeared to be the one.

          The program showed an animated wireframe figure.

          7" flexidiscs have been used for distributing programs (there's one in our computer museum's collection); for normal audio they don't sound that bad anyway, and are probably one step above no-name cassettes played on a cheap recorder with a misaligned dirty head.

        2. Killfalcon Silver badge

          Re: Data storage on vinyl

          More recently, I have a Mogwai album from around 2001 which had one of the track in Cubase format so you could play around yourself if you wanted to try out mixing music.

    2. Stevie Silver badge

      Bah!

      CJ!

      Is that you?

  5. LucasNorth

    who is the "Shirley" mentioned in this article?

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Coat

      Right, I see Shelia and Bruce mentioned early on, but Shirley only once. I guess somebody was unshirley about who the story was about?

      1. Steve Button

        Perhaps we can now dig out the real Shirley, as The Reg have inadvertently given up one of their "sources". Does anyone know a secretary from the 90s (80 MByte HDD) who worked in South Africa (or perhaps Australia) ?? She might have to go into exile now (Russia?) once this gets out! Will probably end up going trans-gender due to all the stress.

    2. Symon Silver badge
      Coat

      You can't be serious?

  6. upsidedowncreature

    If it fits...

    About 15 years ago I finally got fed up with my DVD player misbehaving so decided to replace it. As I removed it from the shelf I noticed an uncharacteristic clunk. Upon opening the case I found a music CD rattling around inside.

    The CD was Rooty by Basement Jaxx - the one with a picture of a cartoon gorilla. I reckon my toddler son had found it, thought he'd like to watch cartoon gorillas and not knowing how to open the disc drawer had just stuffed it through a gap in the case. In his defence he was only around 2 at the time.

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: If it fits...

      20 years ago I used to work on the Ambulance service, and we got a 999 call to a house with the report "young child trapped". When we got there, we walked in and found a toddler standing with their hand stuck in the slot of a front-loading VCR, and the mother having hysterics on the couch.

      The child had stuck their hand in the slot, and somehow also pressed the "eject" button, so the tape mechanism had ridden up, trapping their hand. It was a simple matter to get a finger in the slot and press the loaded tape down, and remove the toddler's hand.

      We were discussing afterwards what would have happened if they'd called the Fire service and not us, the consensus was the VCR would have been cut to pieces... :)

      1. Montreal Sean
        Joke

        Re: If it fits...

        @Alister

        "We were discussing afterwards what would have happened if they'd called the Fire service and not us, the consensus was the VCR would have been cut to pieces... :)"

        This was a stuck toddler, I think you'll find the fire service only deal with stuck todgers.

  7. Richard_Sideways

    Fiscal responsibility.

    My old boss once presented me with his laptop with a 3.5" disk stuck in it, and was 'rattling'. Some judicious plier-work released the disk... along with a penny. Still rattling so out with the screwdrivers, pulled a total of 18p out of the thing. Seems that his young son had been treating it as a moneybox.

    1. Jay 2

      Re: Fiscal responsibility.

      I seem to recall in the mid-80s our front-loading VCR havign a bit of a problem. The service engineer found some money inside, as my brother had apparently being using it as a piggy bank.

      1. Mine's a Large One

        Re: Fiscal responsibility.

        Guy I worked with had his VCR trashed by his 2yo son pushing toast/marmalade & biscuits in the slot. The lad had asked how it worked and he'd answered there was a little man inside the machine who read what was on the tape and made the actors on the screen do and say the right things. The lad thought the little man might be hungry so had been pushing food in for the last few days!!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fiscal responsibility.

          Friend of mine used to own a tv/video repair shop. Always recounted the story when a very flustered mother came in with an almost new VCR (front loader), along with very young son. The gerbil (or maybe it was a hamster) is stuck inside she proclaimed. He thought she was winding him up, but it turned out the young son wanted to see his gerbil/hamster/rodent on the TV, so poked him through the flap into the machine..... Fortunately, she found out what had happened and unplugged the machine pdq and took it round to his shop. Equally fortunately he hadn't tried to stick in a tape afterwards, which would almost certainly have made a bit of a jam. Mr Hamster was apparently none the worse for his ordeal and lived happily ever after......

          1. JimboSmith Silver badge

            Re: Fiscal responsibility.

            Back in the days when Hardcore Pr0n was illegal VHS copies of such filth were quite expensive and hard to get. Allegedly one of the kids at my school had found an unmarked tape in his parent's wardrobe when hunting after school for his Christmas presents. Attempted to watch it and had seen about 5 seconds of filth before the tape stopped playing and started to get spooled out inside the machine. Legend has it that he was down the repair shop on his bike (with the very heavy VCR machine in his rucksack) faster than you can say lightning. The tape was safely removed and was replaced just as quick in the back of the wardrobe.

      2. Greencat

        Re: Fiscal responsibility.

        Back in the 90s, I lived in a studio flat with my bed and an Apple style writer on the floor adjacent to the kitchen counter. One day, the printer became flaky in its output and I assumed it was dead.

        Becoming desperate to print something, I figured I'd have to get a new one until I happened to lean over it to check the paper tray; there at the bottom of the feeder, I saw the edge of a coin. A quick bit of judicial rattling and the coin was free, I felt richer and the printer working again.

        I realised what had happened. One night reaching up for the desk lamp light switch on the kitchen counter so I could read in bed, I must have knocked a coin off the counter into the paper feed of the printer...

        1. fiskrond
          Trollface

          Re: Fiscal responsibility.

          bet you've dined out on that anecdote a few times....

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fiscal responsibility.

          Just a coin? Can top that -

          Helpdesk call - fax machine not working, paper jam.

          Solution - removed cutlery knife from paper feed tray.

          1. tim 13

            Re: Fiscal responsibility.

            That's what you spread the jam with

  8. Rupert Fiennes Silver badge

    The "stiffy" problem

    Back in 1995, I had a South African friend working as an SQL dev in Swindon who caused much merriment when, as a recent emigre from SA, he went around his new office asking if "anyone had a stiffy" while looking for a floppy :-)

    1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

      Re: The "stiffy" problem

      Looking for a stuffy when all he's got is a floppy? We've got pills to help out with that. Consult your local, friendly physician

      1. Spanners Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: The "stiffy" problem

        Have your hard discs gone floppy? Have your floppy discs gone hard?

        Don't mix up your medications!

        1. yoganmahew

          Re: The "stiffy" problem

          My introduction to Swindon IT life was some proud QA (tester as they were called those days) proclaiming "I haven't had a dump in three days".

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: The "stiffy" problem

      Did you tell him to use his head?

    3. Daveytay

      Re: The "stiffy" problem

      I went to school in EU English international schools until I was 9 and learned that Erasers were called Rubbers. Moved to Vancouver in early 80's and was re-educated, haha.

    4. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge
      Devil

      Re: The "stiffy" problem

      We had an Australian apprentice come to work with us, he was the "Victorian Apprentice of the Year". He asked if anyone had a roll of Durex, to everyone else's amusement. We had to explain to him what we called Durex here in England, as in Australia, Durex is their name for adhesive tape, what we would call Sellotape. He later amused himself and some of the other apprentices by going into WH Smith's and asking the assistant (obviously female) for "a roll of Durex".

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: The "stiffy" problem

        Reminds me of the classic Jasper Carrott Australian Durex routine: https://youtu.be/Vm5wrdIf2ng?t=1068

        1. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: The "stiffy" problem

          Hadn't seen that, but it proves the point. Thanks for posting it, made me laugh.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ex apple genius.....

    If I had a pound for every SD card that had been inserted into the DVD slot of an iMac.....

    Fortunately, easy to repair, as the cases of the DVD drives were easy to remove....

    Now, for the person that had managed to get TWO DVDs into said drive....

    1. Andy Taylor

      Re: Ex apple genius.....

      I found that holding the iMac with the DVD slot facing down and shaking it would get the SD card out 9 times out of 10, which requires nerves of steel but no disassembly.

      1. Hero Protagonist

        Re: Ex apple genius.....

        So you're saying there's a one-in-million chance of that working?

        1. MrDamage

          Re: Ex apple genius.....

          Yes, but you have to keep your LEFT eye closed, and be hopping on your RIGHT leg. Not the other way around. That will doom you to failure for sure.

          1. fiskrond
            Trollface

            Re: Ex apple genius.....

            does this apply if you are naturally cack-handed?

      2. upsidedowncreature

        Re: Ex apple genius.....

        This is also the technique for getting plectrums out of acoustic guitars. Technologically very different items, but both prone to user stupidity and clumsiness.

        1. fiskrond
          Thumb Up

          Re: Ex apple genius.....

          Doesn't matter how long it takes.. or how much the guitar cost (eg a Gretsch or Gibson semi-acoustic).. yer gonna shake it till ye get yer plectrum back as if yer life depends on it. Done it.. :-D

  10. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Surely Bruce and Sheila were in Australia?

    1. MrDamage

      No, they were obviously on holiday in Africa, as the story says.

      And don't call be Shirley.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Confession

    Definitely a story that made me smile, but I have a confession to make (different technology, different circumstances, but much more recent):

    At a self service checkout (I hate those things and avoid to use them whenever I can) I put a £10 note in the slot where people put their discarded receipts, rather than the 'money in' slot. Needless to say, the machine didn't accept the payment and I had to get an assistant to retrieve the money...

    Anonymous Coward for obvious reasons...

    1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

      Re: Confession

      Where the cash goes... Tore down a clothes dryer one time to identify the source of some grinding noises. Came out ahead by over $40, in the form of a very clean and slightly scorched 20 note, a bunch of fives, some charred ones and some change.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Happy

      self checkout

      I once used one of those, and it gave me three 10 notes instead of three 1 notes. It was fun to watch the resulting panic, when I mentioned this to the "minder" on duty. Turns out the bins in which the notes are stored inside the machine are all identical and marked as to value with handwritten masking tape labels.

      I left them wondering how many earlier users had "not noticed" they had received incorrect change.

      1. JulieM Silver badge

        Re: self checkout

        I was going to ask "How the Muddy Mildred did someone even manage to fit high-denomination notes into a space meant for low-denomination notes without noticing anything was wrong?"; but I guess the mantra should be with users, anything is possible.

        1. Baldrickk Silver badge

          Re: self checkout

          Notes are the same size as each other in the good ol USofA aparrently, unlike here.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: self checkout

            "Notes are the same size as each other in the good ol USofA aparrently, unlike here."

            I can confirm this. All USA paper money is the same physical size, but with different designs. Even the legendary (but real) $2 bill. The coins, on the other hand, are different sizes, with larger coins being worth more. Except for dimes ($0.10), which are smaller than pennies ($0.01).

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: self checkout

              Also except for the (very rare) half-dollar coin ($0.50), which is bigger than the dollar coin.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: self checkout

                Half dollar coins are NOT very rare. You can get a roll of them at any bank. They are still legal tender, and still in circulation. They are larger than the new dollar coins, true ... but they are smaller than the traditional "silver dollar" size coin, the last version of which is the Eisenhower Dollar.

                Strangely enough, the Eisenhower Dollar is still legal tender, and still in circulation. I see them fairly regularly, a couple times per month (ask for one at your local bank) ... I saw the Susan B. Antony coin fairly regularly when it was first introduced, but not for about two decades now, following the one year re-issue in '99 ... and I have NEVER seen any of the more modern Sacagawea or Presidential dollar coins in circulation. Seems to be little interest in the denomination.

            2. jake Silver badge

              Re: self checkout

              The two dollar bill has been around for over a century, first being issued in 1862. There was a gap in production from 1966 to 1976. It is still being printed today. The "legendary" bill you might be thinking of is the three dollar bill, which has never existed. (Gold three dollar coins were struck between 1854 and 1889). Somewhat on topic for this thread, the original two dollar bills were larger than normal bills of the time ...

              Dimes being smaller than cents (NOT pennys!) is an artifact of history ... Dimes used to be made of silver, cents of copper. The difference in value reflected the value of the metal. Likewise, the 5 cent piece or "nickle", struck in an alloy of nickle and copper, is larger than the 10 cent dime. Up until the mid 1870s the "half dime" was struck in silver, and was half the size of a dime (surprise!).

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: self checkout

          This is going to blow your mind ... In some countries, bills (notes) are all the same size, regardless of denomination! Mind boggling to those who haven't traveled, I know, but them's the facts.

          In other news, people eat funny/odd things in foreign parts! Best to never even go as far as Hull, it's easier on the pre-conceived misconceptions.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Confession

      my confession - accidently stole £5 from another customer.

      Was buying lunch, didn't want to buy a bag, so juggling several lunch items, paying by contactless, so wallet, keeping the two contact cards separate, collecting my change.

      Was halfway to the office when I realised how did I get £5 change when I payed by plastic!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Floppies and Stiffies

    My first PC had twin floppies....

    A while later a friend of mine who had to have the latest and greatest announced he had bought a new PC, and unlike my old fashioned floppies it had hard discs. Which was strange, as in those days, the cost of a hard disc alone was a significant fraction of the cost of a PC, and I knew roughly how much he paid for it. Turns out of course, it had a 3.5 floppy (a stiffy as I have been educated today by El Reg commentariat ), not a hard disc at all.

    I also remember college in the mid/early 80's when we had to go to the college admin office and buy our floppies - they were not available in the campus shop back then. I also remember a fellow student folding his in half and sticking it his back pocket and wondering why it never worked again.

    I concur with above comments that 5.25 floppies were more reliable than much later 3.5 ones. I had always assumed this was quality control - early-ish discs and disc drives (c. 85/86) were significantly more expensive than latter day 3.5 discs and drives (98/99 ish)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Floppies and Stiffies

      "I also remember a fellow student folding his in half and sticking it his back pocket and wondering why it never worked again."

      Couple of months ago I was rummaging round the stores looking for a spare fibre cable. I came across an old jiffy bag (bad enough!) marked 'fibres' and opened the bag to discover whoever had prepared our order for dispatch had FOLDED the fibres in half to get them to fit in the bag!

      1. upsidedowncreature

        Re: Floppies and Stiffies

        I ordered some seals for a motorcycle brake caliper that arrived folded up. Didn't fancy fitting them.

        Fortunately they sent replacements out fairly quickly.

      2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Floppies and Stiffies

        I needed a 25m length of earth bonding cable for a second-floor flat. The chap behind the counter drew it off the reel, then promptly folded it into 25 x 1-meter lengths.

  13. Wilseus

    Floppy discs

    "The 3.5" disks with the rigid cases were called stiffy disks by South Africans at the time – to distinguish them from the previous generation of 5 to 8-inch "floppy" disks in the flexible, bendable jackets."

    Back in the late 1980s when I was at secondary school, most of the home computers that my fellow schoolfriends had at that time were Amigas and STs etc that took 3.5" floppies, and most people called them hard discs, much to my consternation. It didn't matter how many times I explained that they weren't, and what a hard disc actually was, they usually looked at me blankly and carried on calling them hard discs.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Floppy discs

      An early education in what you'd have to deal with in later life.

  14. 0laf Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    I opened up a PC once to find it was 3/4 filled with fag ash. the owner was in the habit of tapping his ciggy on the front of the machine and the ash was drawn in by the fans. Unsurprisingly it was overheating as everything was inches deep in ash.

    It was one of the more disgusting things I've ever dealt with working on PCs and it took a long time before the smell faded from memory.

    1. Rupert Fiennes Silver badge

      Building dust

      File under the "don't install equipment when they are still building out the MDF" header...I had a router die, since it was full of building dust. They had promised they were finished too...

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Building dust

        Was that a router or a router that died?

      2. Alligator

        Re: Building dust

        I had plenty of Engineer's laptops that died of inhaling tiny little bits of swarf from the CNC Lathes and Milling Machines that they were working on. And one that fell into the coolant when the machine vibrated a bit too much and yet bizarrely survived (once dried out).

        Before the smoking ban, there was one Engineer whose laptop you could smell a mile off due to the tobacco stink. Fuel station gloves were used to install remote control software onto the machine (no-one wanted to touch that keyboard) and it was put in a remote storecupboard whilst it was updated).

    2. trevorde

      Once took a support call for a SCADA PC, located in a timber mill, which was playing up. Opened up the case to find it was chock full of sawdust. Vacuumed all of it out and it was good for another few years.

    3. Rob Telford

      An Apple dealer I worked at had a similar encounter with a Maci Iici that came in for repair because it was crashing after being turned on for a while

      Quite grim

    4. Wilseus

      Stale fag ash is actually one of my favourite smells, even though I have never been a smoker.

      It's because when I was a toddler, the playgroup I attended was held during the day in a working mens' club, and there'd sometimes be dirty ashtrays left on some of the tables from the night before, and once in a while one of us would end up playing with them. The sensation of fag ash all over my hands accompanied by that smell is one of my earliest memories.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Not sure about fag ash, but I loved the smell of the coal lorry while walking to school. The best ones were those with a the mechanism on the back allowing the driver to attach a sack and fill it there and then, before carrying the coal into the house. Later they changed to a flat bed with the sacks pre-filled and that wasn't nearly so exciting!

        [Something like this https://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/tahistory/featuresnostalgiapasttimes/16397883.west-yorkshires-only-coal-bagger-lorry-does-its-rounds/]

        1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

          I must've had the best walk to school

          Can understand your coal lorry affinity, but somehow I got the deal of a lifetime - my walking route took me past a commercial bakery and a coffee roaster. Made friends with the owner of the roaster and sometimes worked there. Good times!

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A Intercolor terminal (basically a CRT monitor with serial and keyboard) from a chicken farm.....

    6. Trixr Bronze badge

      I've told this story before, but the worst overheating issue I solved was with the guy who smoked like a chimney and had a persian cat.

      Cat fur had entirely felted up the inside of his PC case, glued together with the lovely cigarette tar. At least I could lift it all out in big sheets.

  15. Notrodney

    I worked in South Africa many years ago with an American friend. One day he came running up to me and told the most beautiful woman he'd ever met had just given him a Stiffie... and held up a 3.5 inch floppy.

  16. Southernboy
    Happy

    The best for a long time

    I have only just managed not to end up with a keyboard covered with half-chewed doughnut. This is the best I've read for some time!

    1. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward
      Happy

      Re: The best for a long time

      Yes, lots of sniggering talk of stiffies is most amusing on a sunny friday morning.

  17. KittenHuffer

    Recently had something similar with the Blister-in-Flaw!

    Have recently sorted a new defenestrated lappy for the Blister-in-Flaw. Only for there to be an issue with the brand new USB memory stick that was acquired for her at the same time.

    I remoted in, expecting it to be the Linux FAT drivers needing installing, but it still wouldn't recognise the memory stick. So she was told to bring it round with her the next time she visited.

    On the next visit it didn't take long to realise she was FORCING the USB memory stick in the wrong way up!

    Fortunately there was no permanent damage to the memory stick or the lappy, though the USB ports definitely looked a bit distorted when I first saw them.

    1. 0laf Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Recently had something similar with the Blister-in-Flaw!

      Usb exists in 4 dimensional space, you do know that?

      Try stick = no

      Rotate 180deg = no

      Rotate 180deg = yes

      1. Wilseus

        Re: Recently had something similar with the Blister-in-Flaw!

        No, USB connectors don't exist in 4d space, they are just quantum particles which have a non-integer spin.

      2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Recently had something similar with the Blister-in-Flaw!

        Somewhere I think in the early twenty-teens of the "SMBC" cartoons, there's one where the method of inserting USB 1 or 2, not C (try once, other way up, other way up again) informed someone's sex education. It's funnier there, obviously. And basically NSFW.

  18. ColinPa

    Topping up the fish tank

    I got my aged mother a laptop about 10-15 years ago. She didnt do much with it, but she liked the fish tank screensaver with the fish moving around. I came in one day to find her with a watering can in hand, and carefully closing the lid. She was going to pour water in the back "to top up the water in the fish tank because it had not been done in a few months".

  19. Timbo

    I smell an old wives tale..

    Firstly, Sheila had been using the PC for some time BEFORE the 80Mb HDD was installed...so despite running the PC and knowing how to save to a floppy (and hence where to put the floppy), why would she just change habits and insert the floppy disk into a gap?

    Surely, if her boss needed a copy onto a floppy, she'd just do what she must have done many times before....unless she thought that the new HDD somehow made saving to a floppy a lot faster?

    (PS: I also recall the times when HDD's were supplied with front bezels and brackets so that once fitted, everyone could see that YOUR PC had a HDD installed, as opposed to all the other dweebs who had maybe one or even two 5.25" floppy drives.

    I was very pleased with my old 286 back then which had both 5.25" and 3½" floppies, a CDROM and a nice 40Mb SCSI HDD. Oh, and a 287 maths co-processor (which made Lotus 1-2-3 run very quickly !!).

    1. dajames Silver badge

      Re: I smell an old wives tale..

      PS: I also recall the times when HDD's were supplied with front bezels and brackets so that once fitted, everyone could see that YOUR PC had a HDD installed, as opposed to all the other dweebs who had maybe one or even two 5.25" floppy drives.

      Nice idea, but perhaps a but old-wifey in itself. You don't think that the reason for HDDs being fitted in a front-facing bay with a bezel might be that PCs only had front-facing bays originally intended for floppy disk drives, so that was the only place they could go?

      ... and, of course, the bezel is the mounting point for the drive access LED, as there wasn't one on the front of the box, and there's nowhere else for it to go.

  20. Dippywood

    5 to 8-inch "floppy" disks in the flexible, bendable jackets...

    Not to forget that one also had some with 'hard holes'...

  21. heyrick Silver badge

    Shiela is okay...

    ...but you want to watch out for Jim and Fred.

    1. IanRS

      Re: Shiela is okay...

      They used BBC micros, not PCs.

  22. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Joke

    Stiffie?

    You want me to put it where? I don't think so 'cause that will hurt.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      Re: Stiffie?

      Just put it away.

  23. gnasher729 Silver badge

    Happened to me... kind of

    Back in the day when floppies were not quite on their way out, the floppy disk drive on my tower computer broke. Someone took it out and was going to order a new one and put it back. Didn’t need to use a floppy disk for ages and forgot all about it.

    Then someone needed some data on a floppy. I put an empty floppy in and ten milliseconds later remembered there was just a whole in the case, no drive. The disk just fell down.

  24. earl grey Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I must be getting old

    I have an 8 inch floppy here in front of me and the Mrs. won't let me put it in the slot.

    Paris...because.

  25. chrishansenhome
    FAIL

    Sheila wasn't the first.

    I was working for a market research tabulation house years ago. One of the major functions of the company was keypunching data onto floppy disks so that we hacks could tabulate it. One of the keypunchers called me and said that she couldn't get her data onto a disk whatever she did. Of course, she had inserted the disk into the space between the two floppy drives in her computer. When I opened it up, there were four or five disks similarly placed. How we laughed.

  26. macaroo

    She probably was the individual who thought that she could make the computer run faster by stepping on the mouse under her desk. One of the classic tales of computer lore.

  27. ChrisB 2

    Sort of the reverse.

    Many, many moons ago I wanted to upgrade from FoxPro to Visual FoxPro and the sales people at Microsoft said, "Sure, just send us a photocopy of the label on the first install disc of the old software with your order and you'll get the upgrade offer price."

    Off I trot to the local library to photocopy the disc, pay my 2p or whatever to the librarian and saunter over to the copier to make the copy. Cue the librarian slowly coming up to me and, in the most gentle, sympathetic and understanding tone, saying, "I don't mean to be rude, but that's not really how you copy floppy discs."

  28. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    Re. floppy hoarders

    Hi, I found a pile of (blank) Minidiscs a while back under a pile of AOL disks, floppies and other computer hoardage.

    Still can't find a use. Apart from taking them out and recasing them to use for PSPs.

    Incidentally this likely won't work as the laser on a Minidisc drive is IR 780nm not red but *might*

    if you also modify the write protocol so that it encodes the special PSP DRM as AFAIK DVD drives can read CDs as long as they have good enough optics and software.

    I did find out that with a little work if you have an old player which is now dead you can rebuild it with an Arduino Uno R3, handful of transistors and some other parts so it will both play and record.

    The main problem with the early MD-R seems to be that the alloy used gets "lazy" and won't erase.

    Which is actually easy to fix if you know how.

    Completely pointless of course but if you really want to write <140MB of data it will do.

  29. Morten Bjoernsvik

    Commodore 1541 floppy drive singing

    My first encounter with floppies was the CBM1541 5.25in.

    You could program the driver head, up and down, The faster the higher frequency pitch.

    The drive worked fine, but it is was a floppy in it it got scratched.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_cgvn5Vq6g

  30. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Australia usually

    "Bruce” and “Sheila”... ...in South Africa??

  31. MrDamage

    Remove disk from sleeve and insert into drive (mid 80's)

    So the maths teacher at the school I went to did just that. Painstakingly removed the outer cover of the 5.25" floppy disk, and put it into the drive. Not the cardboard sleeve, the outer plastic shell.

    I also had a call where a boss decided to "upgrade" the mills order processing machine to Win95, by putting the CD into the 5.25" fdd

  32. Sandy5252

    Smart ladies

    Back in the 70's all the computer operators were young women. There was no IT support, if they couldn't fix it they would fly someone in from the USA to the computer with only one job and had its own room and a/c.

    A couple of years later the HP45 appeared and was so popular and save you so much time we used to send someone over to Singapore to buy some at least once a year. You could only ever find one or two in the UK and we wanted at least six at a time, and they were cheaper. I still have mine and it is still working!

  33. Grease Monkey

    My personal favourite from the era of the floppy disk comes from the time I spent supporting an accounts and payroll suite. In the eighties remote support was not a luxury we could afford so we often had to travel to the customer premises. But some customers data files were small enough to fit on a floppy disk, indeed many customers used machines without hard disks. These machines had to drives and we always taught customers how to make backup copies of all their data and program disks.

    We tended to teach grandfather, father, son backups. This was usually sufficient if data became corrupted. We would tell the customer to return to the previous backup. We seldom had an incident where at least one of the backups wasn't good, even if the customer had to re-input a few days worth of data.

    On occasion however there would be a situation where even the backups were corrupt. The file format was a linked list and on more than one occasion I had to read those lists in a text editor and fix the links by hand. Often I could achieve this without the loss of any data.

    One day I got a call from a customer reporting an error message suggesting a corruption in the linked list. She confirmed that the computer had been switched off without saving the data. This made things simple, it should be a case of going to the most recent backup.

    I asked her to try the backup copy, but she admitted that she hadn't made a backup copy since she'd started work at the company as nobody had ever showed her how. So the must recent backup was several months out of date.

    I should at this point have realised that my next suggestion was unlikely to have the desired outcome. I informed her that I could probably fix the problem, but the cost of my traveling to their office to carry out the repair may be prohibitive. I could however repair the data if she were to send me a copy of her data disk.

    The very next day an envelope arrived containing, as you've probably guessed, a photocopy of a five and a quarter inch floppy disk.

  34. MarthaFarqhar

    Drive head cleaning disks

    Anyone called to somebody trying to save data to one of these.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Drive head cleaning disks

      Many years ago got a callout just prior to Christmas for a DAT drive that was spitting out the tape as soon as it was inserted. The operator had opened a new pack of tapes and it spat them all out. Turned out the operator was a fill in while the regular operators were at a Christmas party and the tape drive had the cleanest heads in the city.

    2. El Al

      Re: Drive head cleaning disks

      No but I do recall the customer whose backup was failing every week - they had a cleaning tape which was clearly labelled "Tuesday"...

  35. eionmac

    Still some today have no computer experience.

    I tutor seniors in how to use computers, (aside: best pupil is in 80s , never used computer , got up to speed within 6 lessons1), I had a 55 years old in transport industry, best driver in company , they wanted him to be 'in charge' but that means a desk job and a computer to use. He tried but did not get on with computers. He eventually learned how to do basic things, then they promoted him. Later found he resigned due to 'no human interaction in job' extreme boredom.

  36. Andytug

    Had people do this with TFA "smartcards" rather than floppies...

    Thanks to HP designing their laptops with the smartcard slot just above the DVD drive. Miss by 2 mm and the card goes in between the DVD drive and the casing, never to be seen again.

    Although we had some retrieval success with a large paper clip, bent into a suitably hooked shape. Think it's still in the toolkit.....

  37. david drysdale

    Backups

    I came across a Sheila once. She had a problem with a file on the "word processing" system so I asked for the latest backup copy. Sheila went away and came back with an A4 ring binder full of photocopies of the one and only floppy.

  38. ChrisBedford

    They *still* call them "stiffies"

    Despite not having seen one in a computer for a decade or more, I still hear people refer to stiffies - I even had a tech support person argue with me once that it *wasn't* a floppy, it was a *stiffy*. When I asked him to show me where in the BIOS setup he configured it, there was a moment of confused silence. "Uhh... but we've always called them stiffies". Yeah, OK, but don't correct me when I tell you it's a 3.5" floppy.

  39. Chris Jasper

    Yep, had the same thing happen, except to a supposedly senior creative type, complained of a mild burning smell coming from his PC and while we were there mentioned he couldnt get CD's back out of his machine.

    Turned out he had been inserting them in the gap between the bays instead of the smart new caddyless CD drive, the burning smell was melting plastic from one of the 20 or so CD's he had put in there that was resting against the power supply.

    Never assume stupidity or ignorance is not the answer.

  40. Sequin

    A secretary once sent me a document on a 5 1/4" disk - with a compliments slip stapled to it!

  41. Reeder

    Floppy and Stiffy

    In 1996, a work colleague - a South African now working in the US - referred to the 3.5" disk as a "stiffy". But when she described the incident to the IT help desk as "the stiffy had a virus...." those within earshot couldn't stop laughing.....Still makes me LOL to this day!

  42. gnarlymarley Bronze badge

    management material??

    Sounds like Sheila is about to be promoted to management. She sounds like management material for any company.

    Of course, all the good ones get passed up when it comes to promotions...

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