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Naughty sysadmins use dark magic to fix PCs for clueless users

Laying on hands and weird stuff with feathers: some of you are very, very mean

On-Call Welcome again to On-Call, the Friday slot we dedicate to readers' tales of odd jobs at odd times.

This week: two readers spin webs of illusion to convince users their troubles had disappeared as if by magic.

Let's start with “Levi”, who told us of his time “in the third tier role of a customer support department.”

One fine morning, a peer from the A-team of the support outfit asked Levi for help. “His notebook worked at home,” Levi recalls, “but when in the office on the docking station it failed. There was no video on the external monitor. If he opened the notebook lid, the external keyboard and mouse would not work either.”

Levi knew just what to do. He stood before his colleague's desk, rubbed his hands together as if warming them and then placed both hands on the notebook as it lay in its dock.

With a theatrical flurry Levi then said “Healed!” and raised his hands from the PC.

At which point his incredulous colleague said “You did not just lay hands on my computer and fix it!” To which Levi replied that he had indeed done just that, and walked away.

The illusion didn't last: Levi's colleague came by the next day to ask what he'd done, so he could fix it himself. At which point Levi admitted that the dock in question was known to have a loose fitting connection and that a decent nudge was known to hook things up as required for normal operations.

“Some times a good show is worth the effort,” Levi reckons.

Voodoo support

Another reader, “Dwight”, probably agrees. He wrote to tell us of a job he once had keeping some 386 PCs and their CRT monitors alive.

One day Dwight received a call from a clerk in a client's medical office.

Said clerk was in a bit of a state, convinced that that she'd made an error that would see her boss, a doctor, show her the door.

She hadn't of course. Dwight found that the problem was that “The on/off switch was on the lower right corner of the CRT, and embellished with Runic pencil marks, and the light saying that the electricity gods were there was out.”

At which point Dwight says he asked her to find a feather, a cotton ball, and some alcohol.

“Did I mention that I am a dramatic little shit?” Dwight asked in his email to The Register, answering himself with “Yepperini.”

Is that American for “yes”? On-Call will proceed on that basis and let you know that Dwight says he “dabbed the cotton ball on all four corners of the screen, then after wetting the feather with some alcohol, leaned over the monitor and shook the feather at the back of the CRT, while pushing the on button.”

The monitor duly turned on, which was when Dwight looked up to see the doctor who ran the office looking at him with “the exact expression that would fit on the face of a comedian after getting an invisible pie in the nose.”

Dwight sauntered out as if nothing had happened. A few weeks later, when making a routine visit to the clinic, he swears he found “a cotton ball, a feather and a small bottle next to each workstation.”

Have you magically fixed a client's problem? If so, write to let me know and you could feature in a future On-Call. ®

Boonote: A couple of comments on last week's On-Call asked how El Reg vets On-Call contributions.

We start with a belief that Reg readers who take the time to share a story do so without the intent to deceive. Your correspondent also reads incoming emails closely for signs of complete confection, such as too-clean copy that's obviously been honed beyond reason. As someone who writes for a living, and dabbles in fiction, I also consider how hard it would be to write a decent fake On-Call.

But when a contribution feels a little unlikely your correspondent will do a little research on the writer, to establish they're a real person and not someone hiding behind a disposable email address. If a contribution still feels a bit dodgy, I'll use Snopes and Google some key phrases from the contribution to make sure we're not recycling an urban legend or something that's appeared on Reddit or other publications' similar columns. For what it is worth, I started On-Call without knowing of similar efforts elsewhere online. The column grew out of our eXpat Files series about readers who moved to other countries and shared their observations of life among foreigners. Feel free to revisit those and share stories!

This informal regime is probably not perfect – there's one or two On-Calls that make your correspondent a little nervous – but as other commenters pointed out last week, we've always positioned the column as “readers tales” rather than reportage.

One last thing: if someone with an interest in writing short fiction about sysadminnery gone wrong wants to get it published by submitting it to On-Call, you're going about it in an odd way seeing as we anonymise each piece and you'll never be able to claim credit. If you really are contemplating sysadmin fiction, an email to El Reg asking if we're interested is a better way to start. Or maybe a visit to Charles Stross' blog, seeing as his Laundry Files series starts with some sysadminnery.

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