* Posts by Andy A

145 posts • joined 26 Mar 2008


Crash, bang, wallop: What a power-down. But what hit the kill switch?

Andy A

I was once helping out by clearing a backlog of fault calls at a railway depot. Suddenly the PC I was working on went dark and all went quiet.

Enquiries revealed that someone up the road had chopped the BIG cable with an excavator, so it was not going to be a quick fix. I went to the server room and gave things a graceful shutdown before the UPS gave out. This was late afternoon after the office workers had left, so only the engineering staff were around. I headed over to them to inform them that I was heading off too, and commiserated with them that they would now be unable to brew any tea. "No problem" they said. "This buffet car gets its power from the overhead line".

Using WhatsApp for your business comms? It's either that or reinstall Lotus Notes

Andy A

Re: We are family

Could be worse. At one place I worked you got a JPG of the text as an attachment, meaning the email took roughly 20 times the capacity it needed to.

Users fail to squeak through basic computer skills test. Well, it was the '90s

Andy A

Re: Mice are not particularly intuitive

-- A bit like cars - it took them a while to standardise the clutch-brake-accelerator layout, even the steering wheel from an initial tiller back in the days of steam cars. For anyone learning to drive it is not initially intuitive, but once you learn it's like riding a bike and you couldn't use any other layout.

As someone who owns a car with the accelerator in the centre and brake on the right, I have to say I found it quite quick to get used to. Changing between that and my "modern" car takes only a couple of seconds to flick the mental "switch".

I still cock up the odd gearchange on the crash box though.

If I could turn back time, I'd tell you to keep that old Radarange at home

Andy A

Back in the early 80s the company I was with had a datacentre (multiple mainframes) in an industrial unit backing on to the West Coast Main Line.

They had to install a Faraday Cage to keep the mainframes happy, because the electric locos heading out of Euston could produce some hefty electromagnetic fields.

Luckily I was never there when the fire alarm went off - the emergency exit took you straight onto the tracks!

Oh, I wish it could be Black Friday every day-aayyy, when the wallets start jingling but it's still a week till we're paiii-iid

Andy A

Re: With perfect timing

The number of traders who spam everyone whose email address they can get their hands on is very annoying.

I once used an email address to allow a company dealing in bathroom fittings to tell me when they would be ready for collection. They seem to have assumed that I would be refurbishing my bathroom at least three times a week. As soon as the goods were collected, they were added to the Always Block list.

I can count on one finger the number of traders reaching my inbox who get it right.

Having bought something for car restoration from an online trader which was difficult to source elsewhere, they started sending me their circulars, usually once or twice a month. All are about their special offers, are for different types of product, or are pointing me at a video showing their products being used. When I buy more items (about once a year), they recognise that I am already in their list, and don't send me multiple mailshots. When they asked me about GDPR, I happily ticked the box to continue the relationship.

Sorry friends, I'm afraid I just can't quite afford the Bitcoin to stop that vid from leaking everywhere

Andy A

Re: I've seen a definite uptick in these

"Microsoft Office 365 email service rejects incoming traffic which uses a plus modifier on an otherwise valid alias address for my account."

Weirdly, Hotmail, which presumably shares code with Office 365, seems to process plus signs properly, even passing things down to an Outlook 2010 client.

Take my advice: The only safe ID is a fake ID

Andy A

Re: Silly first name.

I've never understood why the spellings used for the same sounds in English, Welsh and the various Gaelics ended up being different.

After all, the people who first wrote them down - probably monks - would all have had the same type of education.

Abracadabra! Tales of unexpected sysadmagic and dabbling in dark arts

Andy A

Physics has the celebrated Pauli effect, where equipment suffers failures when a certain person is present, even if they don't actually touch anything.

The story is that some complex equipment at Gottingen unusually suffered a failure when Wolfgang Pauli was NOT present, and this unusual state of affairs was commented on. It turned out that Pauli happened to be changing trains at Gottingen at the time.

EU wants one phone plug to rule them all. But we've got a better idea.

Andy A

Re: Plug cable entry angle

That style of connector is only available for non-earthed applications, and seems common on phone chargers.

The "earth" pin is a plastic moulding; having a metal pin for electrical protection would require quite a bit of engineering. It would need to be able to guarantee electrical contact full-time, or disconnect the live pin in case of failure.

What amazes me is that virtually every UK 13A plug is shipped with a hard plastic "condom" over the pins. The pins need no protection because the plug is very robust. They are never live when unplugged from a mains socket. The only possible reason is when the paintwork on white goods might be scratched by a loose plug when in transit. Why did the cable for your last purchase of computer equipment have one when it was also inside a plastic bag?

Either my name, my password or my soul is invalid – but which?

Andy A

Re: Gmail addresses with dots

Could be worse.

One place I worked at used


Luckily, in my case <country> was just uk, but any number of services couldn't cope with the total length of the string, and many more borked at the dots. It's annoying to find there isn't room in the box to type the whole email address.

Kept the spam down though.

No, seriously, why are you holding your phone like that?

Andy A

Meters with displays? I remember them!

Swapping out the existing gas meter at my mum's house seems to have become something of a saga. The current device, not the first one to occupy the small cupboard by the front wall, lost its display about three years ago, its "10 year" battery having become exhausted.

There have now been over 20 abortive visits by various engineers. It seems that the neat 1990s model of meter has been replaced in the manufacturer's catalogue by one double the volume. Whereas in electronics, new kit is smaller and uses less power to do the same job as old kit, for gas the opposite is true.

The corresponding "smart" meter is bigger still - they say they only have one model, which presumably has to be able to cope with the gas consumption of a large factory rather than just a pensioner's bungalow.

The obvious solution would be to replace the meter with another of the same model fitted with a new battery, but it seems they carefully destroyed every single one.

Naturally, the supplier has been "estimating" the consumption, and they are really good at that, aren't they?

User spent 20 minutes trying to move mouse cursor, without success

Andy A

Re: Rubber bands

Last century I spent a while dealing with end-users and their faults. We tried to avoid sending an engineer half way across London for simple calls, such as "erratic mouse" reports.

Most of the mice were Microsoft ones, which were quite decent quality. The rollers were actually metal rather than the cheapo plastic ones.

Speak to the user and introduce them to the extraction of the ball of their mouse. "You see the two metal rollers?" "Yes." "You see the two little rubber wheels in the middle of them?" "Yes." "That isn't rubber. It's gunge."

Shortly thereafter, they could wander round their office earning themselves brownie points for sorting out everyone else's erratic mice, thus keeping our profits up.

In defence of online ads: The 'net ain't free and you ain't paying

Andy A

Re: The thing is... it's nothing new.

The likes of ITV and Channel 4 force their ads when using their catch-up services. They disable the FF key specifically.

It's doubly annoying if you have a flaky connection, and replay gives up late in the programme. You are then forced to restart from the beginning because of their rubbish coding. Attempt to go to where you left off and you have to sit through the "ad breaks" from scratch again. Hoorah for the Mute button.

Every Freeview PVR that I've seen allows fast forward in recorded content, where it can't spot the difference between programme and ad, so that's my preferred option.

Don’t talk to the ATM, young man, it’s just a machine and there’s nobody inside

Andy A

Re: Always count...

I was lucky a few years ago to GAIN by this fault. The folded note had missed the counting system completely.

Cue bonus pints!

AWS outage killed some cloudy servers, recovery time is uncertain

Andy A

Now I know where Ancestry keep their servers

Got thrown off Ancestry around quarter past eleven UK time last night. Attempts to log back in, using any of their domains, received a "something went wrong" type error.

Now I know why!

Not sure how long it took to restore service, since I just went to bed instead. It was back again when my alarm went off this morning.

Want to know what an organisation is really like? Visit the restroom

Andy A

Re: We need some ...

One place I used to visit seemed to have some sort of phobia about wet skin.

The Gents had a roller towel, an electric dryer, a paper towel dispenser and an old-fashioned hand towel.

All properly working!

BOFH: We know where the bodies are buried

Andy A

Re: Metaphorical chicken

....Budweiser has flavour?


They proudly claim to filter it through activated charcoal, which removes all trace.

The pint in the icon has more flavour (and I'm not referring to the 3D version it was based on).

Best thing about a smart toilet? You can take your mobile in without polluting it

Andy A

Re: "The obvious quote from "The Third Man":"

I am led to believe that the line was not in the original script, but was ad-libbed by Orson Welles.

Typical for an American not to understand geography.

User asked why CTRL-ALT-DEL restarted PC instead of opening apps

Andy A

Re: Feeling Old...

Not only do I remember TSRs, but I wrote a few.

The ultimate combination program had differing, but related, effects when (a) installed as a device driver, (b) run in DOS to become a TSR (c) run in DOS to pass information for the TSR to process and (d) run inside Windows 3.x.

User stepped on mouse, complained pedal wasn’t making PC go faster

Andy A

Re: Can I just leave this thought with you?

I recently introduced a few groups of long-term Windows users to the concepts of Control-X, Control-C and Control-V. Pointing out the handy adjacent positions on the keyboard helped get the message across.

All grasped the concepts with what can only be described as glee as they saw how many of their tasks would be quicker and easier.

Now all I have to do is get them using Tab to move from one field to the next in dialog boxes. I reckon that getting them to log in without touching the mouse should be deemed a success.

Self-driving cars still do not exist even if we think they do

Andy A

Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

.....Here is an interesting 'throughabout' in The Netherlands.

There is a pretty close UK (driving on the left) equivalent at junction 23 of the M6. Traffic leaving the M6 can turn right in the middle of the roundabout directly onto the A580.

UK exam chiefs: About the compsci coursework you've been working on. It means diddly-squat

Andy A

Re: CompSci without coursework

Reminds me of all those industry qualification exams which ask "what command would you enter to....." and where the automatic marking framework checked for "EXACTLY EQUAL TO", when their product in the real world allowed for shorthand versions.

Microsoft, CISCO and (back in the day) Novell - we are blaming you!

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the data centre temp's delightful

Andy A

I was called out one Monday morning to reports of PCs losing LAN connections at random. Sounded like a failing switch, commonly sorted for a while by rebooting it.

Collected the server room key from security and headed to the 5th floor.

As I approached the server room, I could feel the heat. Both aircon units had failed over the weekend. The temperature was over 50C.

I eventually got the fancy key needed to open the windows. The concrete building pillar was HOT.

Restarted the switch and all was well. The ProLiant servers never missed a beat, though their monitoring logs showed the temperature spike in detail. Aircon 1 died about 8pm on Friday, with aircon 2 deciding to follow it 7 hours later.

Hot chips crashed servers, but were still delicious

Andy A

I've noticed recently that Google are doing OCR on the content of PDF files - not just the ones which contain proper text, but the content which started out in picture form.

It was quite disconcerting when I first encountered a file where Find didn't locate the text that Google had indexed.

Engineer named Jason told to re-write the calendar

Andy A

Re: Not IT related, but on topic ...

Where I first started work, trainee operators were told to go and get tape a tape with a number such as 6905.

It was an ICL 1900 shop. All the tapes had octal numbers.

Andy A

Re: Can't we get rid of May?

The problem with these folk who demand that the result of negotiations MUST be so-and-so is that they are forgetting that the "other side" in the negotiations consists of nearly two dozen other countries.

If those other countries refuse point blank to play ball, the only possible position is a clean break.

Unless you take the position that we can pretend that the electorate never voted the way it did.

Andy A

Re: Can't we get rid of May?

....There was no effort to quantify the ramifications of either choice, or outline the details of what they meant.

So Project Fear never happened then?

Presumably you wanted the question asked to be:

1. Stay in

2. Get out

3. Keep having referendums until everyone gets fed up and stays in anyway.

There are a large number of commentards and media organisations who have been pretending that option 3 was what EVERYONE voted for.

Windows Update borks elderly printers in typical Patch Tuesday style

Andy A

Re: dot matrix

The 320 was OK-ish. We had to use them when we could no longer source enough working 192 boxes.

The 192 was hugely out of date when I started at a railway engineering works. They stood a ridiculous amount of misuse. We would cannibalise the broken ones to keep a department going. Frame from one, PSU from another, buttons from a third.

One 192 famously would run for a few seconds after power up, then slow down and stop. I thought the guide rod might be dirty, so the spray cleaner was used, and it ran longer. The lightbulb came on, and I went to get a can of WD40. Sprayed the rod and the 192 was serviceable again!

Andy A

Re: backward compatibility NOT a thing with Micro-shaft

I have a Lenovo Thinkpad with AMD video hardware. The latest Windows drivers were for Vista, and they worked fine with Windows 10.

Until the "Fall Creators Update", that is. It looks OK until you unplug the charger. It then immediately blue screens. You can't start it up on battery - it blue screens about half way through the boot. The latest Win10 appears to demand that the video driver support some weird API to enable "low power mode".

Luckily, I could back out to the previous build, and use WSUS, so it won't reinstall.

The day I almost pinned my tushie as a Google Maps landmark

Andy A

With the current state of image analysis...

This seems to be a guaranteed disaster zone, what with new iPhones having terrible trouble recognising their owners,

To confirm things, MS have just rolled out a new version of their photo viewer on Win10. It, or possibly their free cloud offering, attempts to classify photo content. It offered me "fruit".

Well, I didn't remember taking pics of greengrocers' displays, so I had a look. There were three pictures there; all had been uploaded to OneDrive.

First up was a pic of the interior of a pagoda in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Well, there were a few apples and oranges along with the huge floral display, but you could hardly describe it as a picture of FRUIT.

Next was a picture of the Terracotta Army in Xian. Nothing edible to be seen anywhere.

The third was a photo of a gravestone.

User asked help desk to debug a Post-it Note that survived a reboot

Andy A

Re: I think we need a set of white lies to tell users

I used to use "Can you check the cables round the back - maybe the cleaners have dislodged something", knowing full well that no cleaner ever visited their grimy cave.

Just giving them a chance to blame someone else (even if fictional) enabled them to save face and admit that their PC had been unplugged all the time.

Those IT gadget freebies you picked up this year? They make AWFUL Christmas presents

Andy A

"Reminds me of when Italy had a shortage of small coins - so shopkeepers would include sweets or postage stamps as your small change."

I'm convinced that our family started that system. In the late 60s we holidayed on the coast north of Rome. Petrol stations then had attendants, and they expected a tip. As impoverished Brits we had little spare cash, our car had a tin full of sweets such as Swizzels, wine gums etc., and these were passed on to the people who had operated the pumps.

Car trouble: Keyless and lockless is no match for brainless

Andy A

Re: Easy when you know how

The manual for my car has an index at the back, but that only covers the "infotainment" system. If you want to find out how to turn on the lights, you need a different index about 20 pages earlier. Surprisingly, changing the time on the clock is a deemed to be "infotainment".

Andy A

Re: Hire cars are a mixed blessing

"The worst experiences I have had with hire cars is when the bastards have swapped the indicator and washer stalks to be opposite of what I'm used to."

You think you have problems! My "other" car has handbrake and gear lever on the right, and the accelerator pedal is between the clutch and the footbrake. Indicators are not self-cancelling, but unlike some Vauxhalls, do at least have an off position. Engine management is by three levers on the steering column.

Well, it is 90 years old - built before standardisation of anything much!

If you are wondering, the first couple of trips were quite hair-raising at times, but then the brain very quickly adapts, and you just drive normally.

Ten new tech terms I learnt this summer: Do you know them all?

Andy A

I'm sure "irregardless" is a real word.

It is a property that an infra-red diode possesses when not being watched.

Four techies flummoxed for hours by flickering 'E' on monitor

Andy A

Re: Another microwave story

In the late 70s I used to visit one of our company's mainframe sites, in an industrial unit which backed onto the West Coast Main Line about a mile north of Euston.

The side of the building facing the railway had to be covered with mesh to cope with the EMF induced by the passing trains.

The door of the fire exit had to be metal-covered too, though anyone using it was directly in line to be clobbered by the 10:34.

Andy A

I've still got a 300 baud acoustic coupler somewhere in the attic. A proper quality one in a nice wooden box to keep the external noise out.

Fresh cotton underpants fix series of mysterious mainframe crashes

Andy A

Sparks Galore!

The place where I started work in 1976 had a new carpet installed. Suddenly everyone was getting shocks, even those wearing natural fibres.

The computer room, with its vinyl floor tiles, was safe because the partitioning everywhere was of the four-feet-of metal-with-a glass-panel-above type.

I used to walk around carrying a pencil, which I used to tough the door with before using the handle.

At another place I worked, some people had to use conductive footwear because of the risk of explosion. A prospective supplier would visit, and their sample would be tested near my desk. The test kit consisted of a metal plate, and a circuit through a megger to the inside of the shoe, which the teater filled with steel ball bearings. The number of shoes which failed was impressive. The manufacturer would make a good conductive sole, and then take their eyes off the ball and fit an insulating insole!

PC rebooted every time user flushed the toilet

Andy A

Re: Solution (was: You want toast!)

....Screwdrivers tend to have legs...

How true. I have never skimped on the quality of tools. A cheap screwdriver will operate for 1/20th of the time of one costing only 4 times as much.

I once visited a customer 100 miles from our office and was happy to be reunited with a screwdriver with my initials carved into the handle. I'd never been there before, but another chap from my office had, and had to supply some of those items to the right as compensation.

IT guy checks to see if PC is virus-free, with virus-ridden USB stick

Andy A

Re: Not work but...

You've obviously never come across the variant of UEFI Secure Boot used by some manufacturers where the only OS in the "allowed" database is the one installed on the HDD as shipped - usually Windows 8.

It can be a bugger to get round.

Super-cool sysadmin fixes PCs with gravity, or his fists

Andy A

Re: eyyyyy..... sit on it

Used to work for ACT/Apricot. The original Xi had a 10Mb drive, made by Rodime in Scotland.

We had endless reports of drives not spinning in the mornings, especially when the weather was cold.

The drives seemed to have been built with a fair amount of moisture inside the casing (it can be damp in Glenrothes) and condensation formed on the platters. The surface tension where the heads were resting was strong enough to stop the drive spinning.

Rodime's "official" fix was to slap the right hand side of the box. The heads bounced into the air, and the platters started moving before they came down again.

Sysadmin figures out dating agency worker lied in his profile

Andy A

Re: Bad UX? Crap customer service? Let's blame the user!

If the extra step you are on about involves lifting the handle, then they are in use within the UK too.

Both my mum's conservatory and my auntie's front door have such. Both around 10 years old.

Andy A

Re: Password?

I prefer this one -




Andy A

Re: The real problem...

HP seems to have employed some right cowboys to write their software.

The scanner software infamously only checked ONCE for the presence of the scanner - during machine boot.

If the scanner was not switched on, or was in power-save mode, the driver would abort itself and the scanner was useless until you restarted AGAIN.

And when the software install offered to "Install Enhanced Facilities" it actually meant "Allow HP to send me endless spam".

AND why does the average HP printer driver now install about 150 separate files?

The curious case of a wearables cynic and his enduring fat bastardry

Andy A

Re: Two words

Most 'fad' diets work by removing one or more food groups from the subject's plate.

This results in the digestive system being unable to process the rest of the intake properly.

The actual food group removed doesn't matter, so we see people promoting diets with all carbs, no carbs, all protein....

If you ate nothing but 10kg of lard a day, you would lose weight. It's just that nobody could stand that for even a day without the usually-associated fast-food menu items.

BOFH: Follow the paper trail

Andy A

Re: Pens...

I used to have a job which involved the customers signing multipart forms to signify completion. You need a decent quality pen to make marks all the way to the 4th sheet, but my pens kept disappearing.

I decided to find a way round this. I bought four colours of the same model of pen, and stuffed them in the inside pocket of my jacket. At the end of a job I would pull a pen at random and fill in the form. The top copy stayed with the customer, so I didn't care what colour it was.

The black and blue pens disappeared inside the week.

The green and red pens stayed with me for three months.

Andy A
Thumb Down

Re: Oh training budgets....

At my previous employer, it was suggested that I go on a one-day Windows 7 course. You know the thing - trail a hundred miles to somewhere even worse than your own office, sit on uncomfortable chairs and suffer Powerpoint Poisoning. You don't even get to play with a PC.

As someone who had used every version of Windows from 0.94 (yes, before Windows 1.0) onwards, had programmed real applications (not just VB) and had been actually using W7 on dozens of machines for 18 months, I turned down the offer.

No need for the company to waste my time and their money, was there?

Well, come the inevitable rounds of redundancies in this outsourcer, my "score" was reduced because I had "refused training appropriate to my career path".

Andy A

Re: A working system? That's an optional add-on.

Many years ago I was speaking to a chap who was converting systems to run on a new IBM mainframe, and he was telling us about the courses he had been on. "VSAM? It's just like UDAS on ICL, but they charge you extra for it."

They were also about to undergo a huge upgrade - doubling the capacity of the kit they had been sold. Would it run the workload afterwards? "Well, it might run the test systems. Nowhere near enough legs for production work".

Should we teach our kids how to program humanity out of existence?

Andy A

Re: TV viewing time

I well remember a Horizon called "Now the chips are down" which reported on the coming ubiquity of processing power.

For a "foretelling the future" programme, they got a whole lot right. The level of detail is impressive. These days no explanation longer than two minutes seems to be allowed, as though we were all goldfish. They got a whole HOUR, with no breaks for ads.

It's around on iPlayer, or YouTube for those outside the UK. Well worth a watch for those who were not allowed to stay up as late as nine o'clock in 1978.

'Windows 10 nagware: You can't click X. Make a date OR ELSE'

Andy A

It's just a change triggered by the date

Just checked WSUS, and no fresh changes for Win7 since last Patch Tuesday.

That means that MS have just been biding their time. If you didn't have the nagware installed already, you won't see this particular incarnation of it.

God knows what they will push at us on the 14th though.


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