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Tales From the Tech Trenches 99

GMGruman writes "Anyone in IT has a story or two involving stupid users, crazy co-workers, kludgy technology, and airhead managers. Lisa Blackwelder has collected top tales of the tech trenches, covering user antics, office politics, and unusual technical challenges that IT pros faced (usually) with aplomb, insight, and savvy."


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Tales From the Tech Trenches

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  • Print link (Score:5, Informative)

    by zn0k ( 1082797 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @07:35PM (#34705070)

    http://www.infoworld.com/print/146869 [infoworld.com]

    Because there's really no reason to post that shit on two pages to cram in more ads.

    • I can't really see any actual content, just a page of adverts and lists and links.
      • I can't really see any actual content, just a page of adverts and lists and links.

        Ah, good. My Ad Installer 3000 worked perfectly! Thanks, slashdot. Muahahaha!

    • To cram in more ads is exactly the reason to post on two pages. You been living under a rock or something? Besides, your link still doesn't get you to the stories. You still have to click on each individual story link to read the good stuff, like the attorney who refused to adjust the keyboard tray because that was the tech's job, or the nurse who thought the mouse was a microphone.
    • Life without Adblock Pro is horrible, indeed.
      I sometimes use browsers different from Firefox, just to remind me how it was. It takes hours to comb my risen hair afterwards.

    • Even put all together on one page, I want those two minutes of my life back. I second the recommendation to skip to the Daily WTF.
    • by Geminii ( 954348 )
      If it's only two pages, it's not worth clicking anyway. Who here couldn't write two pages of user screwups (or more) every week?
  • Daily WTF (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @07:45PM (#34705160) Homepage

    You're better off reading The Daily WTF [thedailywtf.com] for these types of stories. It's better written than InfoWorld could ever hope to be.

  • by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @07:48PM (#34705190) Homepage Journal
    This month's horror story concerns a user reporting a nasty security issue.

    The user comes up to the helldesk and reports that they have a, quote, "mysterious cable" coming out the front of their computer. Given that at $company we pay a little more attention to security than, say, Gawker, one of my fellow Ops techs was dispatched to the user's desk to determine what this cable could be and why it was so mysterious.

    A few minutes later, he returned, having successfully traced the mysterious cable out the front USB port all the way to the keyboard.

    Upon reporting this finding, another tech asked who the user was--and then noted that she had given said keyboard to said user, who had plugged the keyboard into the USB port herself.
  • This story isn't unique to any single one of us. Reply inanely here if you too have had a cleaning lady pop a core something (switch|router|something better) to plug in a vacuum cleaner. There's at least ten of you. Come on.

    We need to give this cleaning lady (ok, or cleaning man -- no -- cleaning person) a name, like "Reboot Bertha", so that we can just call her this from now on. Alliteration counts.

    • by marga ( 455344 )

      This happened more than once during DebConf6 (Debian Developer's Conference 2006).

      The cleaning staff kept unplugging the router that provided PoE to the whole wireless, TO WATCH TV WHILE CLEANING!

    • No, but I did have a cleaning lady who used to move my keyboard to clean under it, and placed it upon the wireless keyboard/mouse dongle sitting under my monitor (It was plugged into this [alibaba.com] so it was sticking out at an angle). I didn't realise until i came in one day to find my keyboard didn't work and when I checked the dongle it was bent to about 30 degrees.

      Not entirely sure if I should blame the cleaner for not just putting my keyboard back on the desk, or logitech for making such a stupidly shaped USB ext

    • by deniable ( 76198 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @08:32PM (#34705632)
      Copiers here. I put a note over the power point (covering the plugs) saying "Don't unplug this without our permission." They fllipped the note up and did it again. We then taped the thing down properly. Our next planned step was international picture language: disconnected cable and man with bat.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The unfriendly solution is to tell the company that suppliers the cleaners that if it happens again you cahnge companies. If it's important equipment then it's the only realistic thing to do.

      • Another soloution is to plug the important equipment in using something so obviously different from a normal plug and socket that the cleaner doesn't even think to unplug it. Something like an IEC 60309 connector or so.

        Or just have power hardwired into the rack and a lock on the rack door.

    • by dbc ( 135354 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @08:51PM (#34705804)

      So a company I worked for had about 80 people in manufacturing and design engineering in one building. Some electrical contractors were doing upgrades to the manufacturing area -- pretty normal. But two guys on the crew wanted to make sure the line they were working on was dead, so they went to the main breaker panel and started systematically flipping breakers to identify their circuit. They had worked their way through all the circuits powering the engineering workstations, crashing Unix machines right and left, and had started on the circuits powering the PC board stuffing robots, etc., in the manufacturing area. The breaker panel was visible in that area, so one of the manufacturing managers figured out what was happening and put a stop to it. Still, it cost us in engineering most of a day to recover.

      The manufacturing VP was a cool guy... he immediately walked the whole crew out the front door and called their boss to report their firing from the job... and said the tools they left behind would be sent to them. A lucky friend of mine got to pour all their tools randomly into a moderate-sized crate and wheel it to the loading dock.

      Ohh... as to your naming contest... my contribution: Rita Reboot

      • Rita Reboot. I like it!
      • We bought new alpha servers and the old VAXs went out the door. This created space in the computer room for a small office where we could build things and keep track of stuff. So corporate building services found a contractor to build our new office. One day I found him in the computer room cutting aluminium with a circular saw and spraying the resulting metal filings all over the new alphas and their associated VT320 terminals. I went mediaeval at him. Told him to stop. Got the boss. He went mediaeval at t

    • Re:Just reply here (Score:5, Interesting)

      by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @09:01PM (#34705870) Journal
      Reply inanely here if you too have had a cleaning lady pop a core something (switch|router|something better) to plug in a vacuum cleaner.

      /me raises hand.

      Company servers in the middle of the nightly backup. It was an MS-DOS based system. The batch files would start the backup normally and were programmed to reboot the machine at the end of the cycle to clear everything. We couldn't figure out why a backup that should have taken about three hours was done in one. Eventually the boss spent the night in the server room so he could watch the screen to see what happened. The cleaners would come in about an hour after midnight, unplug the server, vacuum, re-plug it and it would come up as if the backup had run.
      • by deniable ( 76198 )
        I never knew why when I started the philosophy was no cleaners in the computer room, we do our own vacuuming. I've since worked it out.
        • Or have cleaners that are not beyond stupid?

          The server rooms where I do system work have special outlets set aside for "unclean" use like vacuums or power-tools.

          Then again the cleaning crew knows enough to not break shit ;)

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            Or have cleaners that are not beyond stupid?

            That would mean hiring cleaners smart enough to know what minimum wage is and to threaten to report an employer that tries to pay less!

            If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!

        • There's also the security aspect. Do you trust your (probably minimum wage) cleaning crew with physical access to your server room? If so, WHY?
          • by deniable ( 76198 )
            Hell no. That's why I'm surprised when people talk about cleaners in the rooms. We'll vacuum ourselves, thanks.
          • by cusco ( 717999 )
            I work in the physical security field (key cards, cameras, alarms, that stuff). It is truly amazing to me the access given to minimum wage cleaning crews, most of whom are made up of illegals. Pharmacies, money counting rooms, executive offices, server rooms, you name it. We're arguing with a customer now about why there is a 'Door Forced' alarm between 11:30 and 12:30 every week night in one of their offices (no cameras in that office, privacy and IP issues), and I'm pretty sure that I'm going to have t
    • by stiller ( 451878 )

      Booting Bertha?

      PS. Why do cleaning people need access to core infrastructure sockets? These things should be behind locks. On a separate feed.

    • We named our guy "Billy Reboot" he wasn't a member of the cleaning staff though. He worked in the PC troubleshooting group. He would show up some random number of days or hours after you submitted a request for something to be done on your workstation. So whenever he arrived without warning and you weren't around to unlock your account and log off he'd do it for you by rebooting. After we made a formalized complaint to his boss someone else decided to hire him on as a permanent employee, go figure.
  • Driftnet (Score:5, Funny)

    by lyle101 ( 1863478 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @07:56PM (#34705288)
    Several years ago, I was the Network Administrator at a medium sized manufacturing company. We had a problem with some of our employees viewing inappropriate content while at work and we didn't have a robust content filtering system at the time. So, I set up a sniffer port at our Internet ingress point and connected a laptop with Driftnet to get a real time picture, literally, of what was being accessed. One of my fellow IT workers saw what I was up to and decided to DoS me. He created an image of a Nazi Flag with my picture superimposed and the words "Network Nazi" underneath. He then uploaded the image to his personal web server with an auto-refresh script and for the next 20 minutes, the only thing I saw was the image he created / posted.
    • by tamarik ( 1163 )

      I remember putting the fist Win '95 desktops for a bunch of guys used to Concurrent DOS at a trucking company in about '95 or '96. 25 or so machines replaced, with innertubes! These folks played about for the 1st month or so and really pissed off management. But I warned 'em in advance. Told them then to let things ride for the 1st month or so and then see what happens. After a month of looking at game scores and porn and shopping sites the folks settled down and actually started doing their work. Worked ou

  • by pieisgood ( 841871 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @08:03PM (#34705352) Journal

    Seriously, my gripe here isn't about being spread over two pages, my gripe is that there is literally shit everywhere on that site. I have never seen such a "busy" lay out, with the facebook shit on the side and ads on the other, topped off with text ads in the middle of the article.. fuck that.

    • OK, so it's not just me. I was thinking TLDR has a new meaning: Too LINKY Didn't Read.

      In order to get to the stories, you had to parse all these busy paragraphs and click a link if you were interested.

      The title implied it was something like a top-10 list; but it wasn't organized as a list at all.

      They should re-do it as a list of links, with just a very brief summary... but really they should just trash the whole thing. It looks like they just found a bunch of tech horror stories, wrote some paragraphs an

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      You guys need "Readability"... clears away all the clutter from web pages

      http://lab.arc90.com/experiments/readability/ [arc90.com]
      • I think that navigating away from those pathetic pages is much more efficient than continuing my patronage and using plugins to make the site less appalling. Vote with your back button, or else such sites won't see a loss in hits -- i.e. you've just found a way to remain part of the problem.

  • by tinkerghost ( 944862 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @08:30PM (#34705604) Homepage

    At one point I did tech support for a company that had inherited a block of 1 way cable modems from a company they bought. One way cable modems are the very definition of asynchronous - 56Kb upstream & 3MB downstream at the time (55:1 ratio) - as they bond a dialup connection upstream with a cable connection downstream. Not only does this compound the number of problems - all the problems of a dialup modem and the problems of a cable modem with the added joy of bonding issues - but customers were completely unable to grasp the asynchronous nature of the process.

    One customer in particular was quite upset that it took so long to upload his files. I can only blame myself as I asked "What kind of files are you working with?" I then endured a 20 minute rant on how it didn't matter what kind of file it was because he had downloaded the files quickly from the newsgroups earlier and it shouldn't take hours to repost his new donkey porn videos to a different newsgroup.

  • I found that on the advice of his teenage son, he was deleting any extra files to make his laptop run faster and give him more storage space. After deleting anything he didn't recognize on the C: drive, he had moved on to the P: drive (his personal network storage location), the G: drive (general public storage of shared documents), and the F: drive (the accounting system, the label system, the menu system). Overall, he had deleted almost 300MB off of his 20MB hard drive.

    Wait... what?

    Infoworld really sucks

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by aberkvam ( 109205 )

      Overall, he had deleted almost 300MB off of his 20MB hard drive.

      Wait... what?

      Infoworld really sucks at giving Information...

      Or maybe you suck at reading?

      His laptop only had a 20MB hard drive. He actually did delete 300MB of files. That is the whole point of the story. The only way it would be possible for him to delete that much data is if he was deleting it from somewhere other than his laptop hard drive.

      • I copy/pasted the entire story, and yes, it does state he's doing it from 4 hard disks, but nowhere does it state that the 20MB is anything other than the total space he has.

        • The title of the article is "2010's best tales from the tech trenches". Each tale that's mentioned in the article has a link. If you click on the link, you get more information. For example, in the story that you mentioned, the full article is "User ignorance wreaks havoc on company's computer files [infoworld.com]". If you read the full article it clearly explains what happened. I suppose you could say that Infoworld sucks at pull quotes but all the information was there, one click away.

  • by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @08:42PM (#34705722) Homepage

    Indeed, everyone in IT has stories about how everyone except themselves are idiots.

    • Re:Ah yes. (Score:5, Funny)

      by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @10:07PM (#34706334) Homepage Journal

      I once worked on the traffic signal system in my city. The linking for a block of 120 or so signals was handled by a computer attached to a modem rack by a bunch of ribbon cables. Each cable handed eight channels. On this day I had to pull all the cables out of the modem rack and the piled up at the bottom. When finished I hooked everything up again and powered the system up. Every signal site in the system went to flashing yellow. I actually stepped out of the building to see what I had done to the surrounding suburbs. Not pretty. So I slunk back into my workplace and tried to figure out what had gone wrong, quickly. It took about five minutes to find. I had missed the bottom modem enclosure because it was covered by spooled cables. The cables for that row were in the row above and so on. Having fixed that all was okay except I had come close to a heart attack.

      There you go, my fuck-up. Want to hear more?

      • Wow! That sounds like it was an awesome sight to witness.
      • I'm appalled that the system didn't have a failsafe to prevent such an occurrence. Having all red flash is fine, or red flash on all intersecting streets except one with yellow... but yellow all ways? Really?
        • Actually flashing yellow is considered a safe fallback mode. Hardware and software both have flashing yellow fallback modes.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Well, good luck finding something else people have so little clue about yet still have to use or feel a need to use. I know there's lots of things I can't do and would probably make a horrible mess if I tried, so I don't do them. Or at least if I wanted to try I'd find something to teach me the basics. Computers are to many people still Magic, like people looking at a car wondering how the hell it can move without horses pulling it. Not that people are superstitious or anything like that but they've just de

    • by lgftsa ( 617184 )

      We had just installed some new racks, which came with vertically mounted power strips. About eight sockets on a long aluminium box with a 10A circuit breaker at the end. Everything was fine until I was putting in some more patch cables and one brushed against the breaker. That was enough to trip it's hair trigger and take out half a rack of servers.

      All those breakers soon found themselves with paperclip-based trip preventers, and we've since transitioned to much better APC strips.

      • I'm not getting how you can trip a breaker by pressing it. They're in by default; you can only push them when they're tripped. Did you mean the power switch?
    • I was an SNA engineer working with LXE to set up wireless terminals in a warehouse, token ring over fiber. We were on the phone with the VTAM programmer for hours trying to bring up the link. I stepped into the office to call home yet again that I was still at work and no idea when I would be leaving. Setting at the desk looking out the window into the computer room where we were working, I noticed a cable hanging from the rack. Only one end was plugged in. 2 engineers and a system programmer, 10 hours to f

    • A coworker told me how to replace a battery in an off brand of UPS. I went to this place, a teller line, and began to follow his instructions. Little did I realize that he was speaking of a slightly different model. In following his instructions, I took about twice as long as I needed to. And I only decided he was full of canal water when I arched the battery using a spring on the end of my screw driver. A flame shot out of my screw driver spring and scared two tellers half to death. I then completely

  • by strangeattraction ( 1058568 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @08:45PM (#34705746)
    Read Dilbert instead
  • Two websites I've enjoyed for tech horror stories are:

    Tech Tales [http://www.techtales.com/]
    Clients From Hell [http://clientsfromhell.net/]

  • .... doesn't mean you should.

    Best story I've got this year is attempting to help a customer repair a corrupted Exchange information store.
    What we found while helping this customer run the repair tools was that they had put their Exchange databases on a software RAID1 between an internal SATA drive and an external USB drive...
    All the while, the server in question already had an internal hardware RAID controller with a RAID5 with roughly 3 times available space as the size of their Exchange databases.
  • Someone asked me how many continents they can put in their recycle bin. I told them seven.
    • by cusco ( 717999 )
      In the course of 900+ desktop upgrades that I've done over the last decade and a half I have encountered 3 (L)users, all of them supervisors, who stored all of their important documents in the Recycle Bin. Two of them were lucky, I hadn't yet wiped the old machine when they noticed.
  • Are there any old Mindspring folks here who have access to some of the f.sharpe's call logs? I worked in the NOC '98 thru '02 or so and heard about her a lot. After all these years I remember tales of her calls to the CSV guys. Remind and entertain me again, guys. TIA

  • by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @10:12PM (#34706370) Homepage

    I used to work at a shipping company. They used to provide higher volume customers with a PC that ran their shipping software. One of my responsibilities was to maintain this equipment at the customer sites (upgrade software, fix PCs, etc.). So the company assigned me to the Florida West Coast (Naples, Ft. Myers, etc.). I arrived at the facility with a list of about a dozen customers to see that week. My first task was to get the spare equipment to replace/install at customer sites. There was supposed to be a small room with all the equipment. I went to the room but it was empty. I called the home office... They said something to the effect that "It's a large room with a whole bunch of PCs, monitors, keyboards. You can't miss it." So I looked again. Even though it was a good sized warehouse, there were only four or so rooms. Nope, couldn't find all that equipment. Finally got in touch with the manager there.... Yup, my predecessor had loaded all the equipment into a truck and taken it away.

    I called my office. And yeah, I figured that something suspicious had happened but I had to play it dumb (can't go around accusing someone of theft if I wasn't certain). Call went something like:
    "Hey, the former admin took all the equipment away. Where did he take it?"

    "What do you mean he took the equipment?"

    "I understand that he loaded everything into a truck last week and drove off. Let me know where and I will see about moving it back."

    "What do you mean he took the equipment?"

    "The facility manager said he took the whole day loading everything up into a Ryder truck. Then he drove off."

    "Where did he take them?"

    "I don't know. I just got here today. "

    The beauty of his move was that he maintained all the inventory... So when it came time to see how much equipment was supposed to be there, everything showed as empty or at customer sites or disposed off... A roomful of brand new equipment was marked as "Disposed" or "Sent back"...

  • I "graduated" from a desktop technician to a full fledged web developer quite some time back -- but yes, I do indeed have some interesting stories from back-in-the-day. One of my favorites is the exceptionally overweight guy who called me to fix a problem with his MacBook Pro after having sat on it. The odd part to me was that he somehow thought that the issue was related to software, and he didn't even admit to what he'd done until I turned over the Mac, and asked him point blank about the huge freaking
  • by Oriumpor ( 446718 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @11:48PM (#34706988) Homepage Journal

    Ok, well I have to take some blame because I was involved in this, but while working for a major retailer I was one of two engineers fixing the power going to a pair of 6509's. They had redundant power supplies, and both the backups were bad. I had sent them both back, and received the RMA units the same day. After scheduling the change, and getting all the paperwork filled out we were ready to begin. Because we anticipated issues with at least one of the units, anything in this Datacenter seemed to be cursed, we called in a proactive ticket with Cisco. As we lined up the 30 amp plug and had it seated in the plug housing (attached to a local UPS) the engineer I was working with began inserting the 20 pound power supply into the chassis.

    Just as he was sliding it I noticed THE CABLE HOUSING WAS SLIDING OUT OF THE POWER SUPPLY!!! I was starting to shout for him to stop and the two exposed solder points contacted the outside of the power supply. Needless to say, milliseconds later, Sparky (who hadn't checked the screw that held the housing in place on the power supply) was cowering in the corner, the operator on duty ran in the DC and had to yell over our now popped ears what the fuck just happened. Occording to her it was a very large bang, to me it was like a lightning bolt in front of my eyes.

    I was already reaching for the leather strap to yank him off it, when I saw he was on the ground and the UPS had locally blown it's fuse. Thankfully he wasn't hurt, and it only took me about 36 hours of explaining to TAC what happened to get the unit back up to 100%. Before that night I never thought I'd call and say, "The unit arc'ed out and I watched it ground through the chassis... we're gonna need some parts." From now on I write the instructions such that it's painfully fucking obvious "DON'T FLIP THE POWER TO THE ON POSITION ON THE FEED UNTIL THE UNIT IS SECURE!!!"

    Sparky doesn't do IT anymore.

  • I watched fascinated as a desktop tech attempted to get more mileage out of a laser toner by shaking it -= then when that failed, held it over his head, stood underneath and prised it open with a screwdriver. When I finished laughing (not that the inhalation of toner is healthy) I suggested using the hottest possible water to clean the toner out of his clothes. The following week the same person rolled out a number of new PCs, and connected them to the network with 5 metre cat5 cables - when I went up to fi

  • This lawn supervisor was out on a sprinkler maintenance job and he started working on a Findlay sprinkler head with a Langstrom 7 gangly wrench. Just then, this little apprentice leaned over and said, “You can’t work on a Findlay sprinkler head with a Langstrom 7 wrench.” Well this infuriated the supervisor, so he went and got Volume 14 of the Kinsley manual, and he reads to him and says, “The Langstrom 7 wrench can be used with the Findlay sprocket.” Just then, the little apprentice leaned over and said, “It says sprocket not socket!

  • As an Intern, I was tasked with fixing the CEOs laptop....in so doing, I had to format it. Well, I backed up everything except for his Outlook email file (.pst)...and he never used to store anything on the server. It's a wonder I wasn't fired.
  • The first story comes from an old admin I worked with. Apparently he worked for a hospital as a helpdesk person and received a call from one of the higher ups. The issue expressed over the phone was a request for a larger mouse pad as he kept running out of room. When he heard this, he shook his head and decided to take a walk up to the office to find out what was going on, When he got there and looked in the door, he had to turn around and walk away, because he was laughing so hard. The executive woul
  • One time, I got a call because a computer was ticking loudly, like someone stuck an alarm clock in it and had to go down and deal with that. It was quite tempting to say that was exactly what it sounded like, but it was just a defective CPU fan Dell gave us.

    It was fixed easily enough, but luckily the user didn't panic at hearing the traditional "this will blow you away" noise the computer was making.

  • I got a computer once where a CD was jammed between two CD drives, similar to what you see in the summary pic. A 3-year-old girl did it.

    • I'm guessing that's a lot less frequent than the way I'm going to be getting free SD cards working here: We got a bunch of the new iMacs with the slot-loading DVD drive right above the SD card slot on the side of the machine (so you can't see either while looking at it straight on) and this week I was able to recover both the DVD and SD card in the DVD drive of one of them, using a zip tie to prevent it from trying to pull the disk back in while it was "ejecting" (it wasn't coming all the way out). I wasn't
  • by Intrusive_Rogue ( 883543 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @11:55AM (#34711278)
    A client of a previous consultant job owned a wild life rescue. One day she brought in her laptop that a Raccoon had used as a litter box (It was a Gateway, so not far off.) Rubber gloves, masks and moving to the companies attached garage with a card table was required to get the data off the HD and into the new one she purchased. The garage reeked of Raccoon musk for quite a while.

The world is coming to an end--save your buffers!