On-call Welcome to another festive edition of On-Call, the column in which we recycle readers' horror stories.
Today, as we seek something, anything, to write in the pre-Christmas news drought, we bring you a trio of tales from the bulging On-Call inbox. Which we must say is swelling this week: it looks like some of you might not be super-busy!
But we digress. First let's hear a story from “PJ” who told us that when he was a student, back in the 1980s, he had a job testing Telemetrix CAD machines.
PJ says those machines had “a fancy screen and control box looking like a PC tower that held a number of foot square PCBs plugged into the base. The front of the box slid forward and you could lift the board out.”
One of PJ's colleagues came back from the field where he'd been asked to fix a machine in which the board kept coming out of their mountings, which of course made the machine fail.
So PJ's mate stripped down the machine and found pastry flakes in the bottom and notified the client of this strange finding.
At which point he was told that the user operating that machine had been told, repeatedly, to stop warming his lunchtime pie on top of the boards.
Beware of the cyborg
Reader “Jake” sent a story about a PC that would randomly revert to its lock screen.
A colleague went through all the usual tests, checked logs, probed hardware to detect any faults. But nothing was awry. Next came a reformat and rebuild, but still the problem persisted. A faulty laptop hinge, perhaps? Nope.
By this time Jake had seen the problem happen while the user sat down typing away in an utterly innocuous fashion.
Which was when one of Jake's colleagues asked “"You don't have any metal in you or anything?"
“Well yes I do, actually,” the client replied, explaining the presence of a metal plate in his arm.
And that plate was the culprit, as it triggered the magnetic lock on his laptop locking it at random.
Jake says he and his mate recreated the issue by having the client wave his arm/wrist along the bottom of the laptop.
The support chap with a working Sonic Screwdriver!
Lastly, meet “Baker”, who got caught up in the excitement when Christopher Eccleston helmed the Doctor Who revival. So excited that “I replaced the large cylindrical plastic tube that I never worked out what it was quite for in my standard issue IT toolkit with an evidently fake plastic Sonic Screwdriver.”
Said implement made “the whirry noise and light up when extended”. Baker made it because “one of the senior engineers was a massive Whovian and being new to the role it didn't hurt to grease a few wheels by feigning an interest in your coworkers hobbies.”
This all happened at a financial services company for which Baker provided second line support. First line support was done in-house. Together they fought a problem in a new build of the firm's standard operating environment whch did not agree with a Windows NT4 sound driver and an IE6 update.
Fixing it was easy: Baker could remote in to each PC and replace the corrupt driver with a different version that made the problem go away.
But first line support had to sign off on every job, so Baker had to visit each PC as well as fix it from afar. After fifteen such visits in one day, he was a bit over it.
Which was when, on visit 16, he encountered a rather unpleasant co-worker.
“Now, this guy's a dick from twenty paces,” Baker told us. “He's already harassing a co-worker as I enter the floor, double checking my job sheet to see while I politely interject myself between him and the poor recently-harassed co-worker who I'm fairly certain headed to the bathroom for a good cry.”
“Immediately he's giving me shit, not missing a beat, as if somehow I'm responsible for Microsoft's coding.”
“It's been a long day of may asshats, so I decide to make myself laugh, if no one else.”
Baker therefore brought out his Sonic Screwdriver, activated its lights and whistles, ran it up and down the side of the PC and then gave a theatrical flick to finish the job. During which Baker pushed the PC's hidden power switch and the machine whirred into life.
"That seems to have sorted it,” he told the user. “Would you care to give it a go?”
At which point the user, in unpleasant tones, asserted that Baker's performance was just that. And not very good either.
"No, no, it's sorted" Baker reassured, before grabbing the mouse and demonstrating the newly-repaired machine was now in full working order.
Cue “Glorious, glorious silence. From both the machine and the user. Just a contorted look of WTF across his red face.”
Baker says he signed off with a cheery “"If it gives you any more problems, please drop us a call and we'll be right back!" and managed to make it back to his office “before cracking up completely.”
If you've fooled a user do let me know. And seeing as tomorrow will be the last On-Call for the year, perhaps you have a tale of working during the festive season? In either case, click here to send me your story. ®