On Call It's that time again: Friday morning, and your weekly dose of On Call, where we gather round to share a laugh at someone else's expense.
This week, we return to the saga of Bruce and Sheila, a tech support chap and a PA working in a petrochemical firm in South Africa.
When we last saw them, Sheila had been struggling to put floppy disks in the right place, and we promised to let you know how she got on with the switch to 3.5" disk technology.
"We had moved from DOS to Windows 95, from Monochrome 80 x 24 monitors to VGA monitors… and we no longer used floppy drives, having invested in the new stiffy disk technology," Bruce told us.
Before we go any further – we should note that the 3.5" floppies with the rigid cases are called stiffy disks by Saffas – to distinguish them from the "floppy" disks in the flexible, bendable jackets. The story you are about to read has nothing to do with wordplay about stiffies.
"But with all this change, some things stay the same, which is why I wasn't too surprised when Sheila called me one morning to tell me she needed to give her boss a disk but that she couldn't get it out of the drive."
Bruce grabbed his tools and headed to her desk, popping in to let his boss where he was going, and she was quick to follow him to find out what Sheila did next. "Morbid curiosity is a powerful tool," Bruce noted.
Thinking back to his last encounter with Sheila's disk-use practices – where she slid disks into a crack between the rim and the HDD – Bruce said that he couldn't figure out how she'd managed to fit a much thicker disk into a chassis that was screwed closed.
"I glanced at the edges of the machine looking for gaps and saw something that made me pause," he said. "There was a stiffy disk… In the stiffy drive."
Bruce pushed the eject button, and the disk moved slightly, but that was it.
"There seems… to be a disk stuck in the drive," Bruce's boss said, with some confusion in her voice.
Taking some pliers, Bruce grabbed the disk and jiggled it, but it barely moved.
"I grabbed it a bit tighter, and jiggled a little more vigorously. It barely moved," he said.
"Throwing caution to the wind, I gripped the disk as hard as I could and gave it a stiff tug while jamming the eject button. The disk moved slightly."
Thirty minutes and some very real blood, sweat and tears later, Bruce got the disk out.
"It had a clock in the middle where the magnetic disk part should be. An actual clock. With numerals from 1 - 12, an hour hand, a minute hand and a second hand."
On the back of this were knobs to set the time and a simple alarm. Printed on the sticker were the words "Merry Christmas from PC World". The clock was still working.
"I'm still not sure what shocked me more – that Sheila had a subscription to PC World Magazine, or that she had managed to get the promotional clock so far into the stiffy drive that it took me 30-plus minutes with a pair of pliers to get it out."
It turned out that Sheila had needed to give her boss a file quickly, but was out of disks so used the promotional clock she'd received a few months previously.
"I wonder if she ever saw the irony in actions – causing such a massive loss of every one's time by using a clock…"
If you have a tale for On Call that can match our latest tale of Bruce and Sheila, send it in to our dedicated Vultures, who choose only the funniest, most cringe-inducing ones for this column. ®