On-Call Welcome to 2015's final edition of On-Call, our regular feature in which readers share tales of technological tedium, tantrums and terror, often in weird places at unsociable times.
To wrap up the year we're going to rifle through the On-Call inbox to share stories that weren't quite long enough for their own story, but should make for excellent filler before I hit the egg-nog some seasonal chuckles.
Consider, for example, the tale from “PJ”, who set some passwords that included a space.
When the inevitable memory problems struck and PJ provided the password, he couldn't figure out why frustrated users complained their passwords wouldn't work.
“That's when I heard 'click, click, click, click, click' over the phone,” PJ recalls, and figured out his user was typing “S-P-A-C-E” rather than hitting the Space Bar.
PJ didn't mind: he billed $200 for support calls on that gig.
The Chief of Police's photo library
Reader “Rob” wrote to tell us about the time he was doing “support work for the government of a small country in Africa.”
After a break-in at his home, Rob learned that the chief of police was a neighbour and offered to help him with his computer if he ever needed it.
“As it turned out he needed some way to organize his photos. He left me to my work at his home, and I decided to install some free photo management software for him.”
What Rob didn't know is that the chief had a mix of images for personal use – porn – and a collection of often-grisly crime scene images.
“I was treated to a slideshow right out of A Clockwork Orange: dead person on a beach, very naked woman, dead person in a bar, very naked woman… “
Rob says he backed out of the home as quickly as politeness permitted. And as it happens, the Police eventually found the chap who broke into his house.
“We never found out what happened to him,” Rob wrote. “I fear he’s on a slide show somewhere…”
The floppy age
We get a lot of On-Call submissions telling stories from the days when tech was rather more fragile than it is today.
This one related to reader “Vic” is a fine example, from the days when 5 1/4 inch floppies were state of the art and a mate was presented one that had given up the ghost.
Vic's mate found the drive was corrupted, formatted it, and sent the customer on her way.
This happened a few more times, so Vic's mate “decided he would need to make a home visit to investigate.”
“He arrived at her home and watched as she went through her routine on the computer. He couldn't spot anything she was doing which could be the cause of the problem and told her he would need to do some further research.”
“While thanking him for his help, he watched as she took the disk from the drive, walked over to the refrigerator and stuck it to the door with a magnet.”
The joys of travel
My personal On-Call favourite for the year was 'The server broke and so did my back on the flight to fix it', which set us off on a series of stories in which readers travelled stupid distances, often with surprisingly little work waiting at the end of the journey.
“Neil” sent us one about the time “I was sent up to Scotland - somewhere halfway between Edinburgh and Inverness if memory serves - to install some software.”
“This software ran on Windows NT 4.0. And only Windows NT 4.0. Not 95. Not 98. Not even 2000.”
Neil of course made sure that the user ran NT 4.0 and was told that yes, NT 4.0 was in operation, by both the user and the salesperson who sold the software.
“So I get on the plane from London early one morning,” Neil relates, “and I'm sick as a dog.”
“I spent the entire flight locked in the toilet throwing up and only came out when they insisted I had to as the plane was about two minutes from touching down.”
Neil's journey into darkest Scotland was punctuated by several, unpleasant, un-planned stops in the airport toilets and by the roadside. Once Neil reached the client he was feeling very special.
Luckily, he only had to spend two minutes there because of course they weren't running Windows NT 4.0.
“Their tech guy said 'It's basically the same thing',” Neil recalls.
Happily, Neil's stomach settled and he was able to appreciate some local culture from his Edinburgh hotel room: my first (and last) ever deep fried cheeseburger.”
Which is as good a note as any on which to wrap things up for the year.
I always ask for more On-Call stories at the end of a piece, and am doing so again here although I hope you don't have anything to submit and that you and yours get to enjoy the season without being called in to work.
On-Call's become a bit of a hit format for us, which is humbling, so I really appreciate every reader of this column and every submission. I'm sorry I can't run every submission or reply to every email. I can, however, promise that On-Call will return in 2016. Merry Christmas! ®