On Call Friday signals the end of the week, a well-deserved adult beverage or eight, and The Register's On Call visit to those who must suffer the slings and arrows of user incompetence.
Our story takes us back to the previous century and a village in Italy courtesy of a reader we shall call "Piero".
It was to be Piero's first hardware On Call moment.
Piero's IT career had begun with advising the owner of a local bar on the ins and outs of the Sinclair BASIC lurking within a 48k ZX Spectrum. Recognising that the computing course the bartender was struggling with was indeed "the key to understanding the future" (as extolled by the door-to-door salesman who flogged the thing), Piero continued digging deeper into the intriguing world of IT.
Our tale starts with a teenage Piero taking ownership of a second-hand Amiga 2000 and, despite also discovering the joys of gaming on the platform, gaining the reputation of village computer whizz.
"A neighbouring family," he told us, "had just bought an Amiga 500 for their son for Christmas, but it was not working."
Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced techie is indistinguishable from magicREAD MORE
Knowing that next door housed "a computer-savvy teen", as Piero put it, the original shop was eschewed in favour of a call through the wall for help. He trotted over to see what he could do (although cautioned that a qualified technician might be a better bet than someone whose experience up to that point had consisted of making a Speccy display "I want free beer" and an Amiga bounce a checked ball around the screen.)
"I went there, we assembled all the computer, and tried turning it on," he said.
At first all went well. The lights on the computer lit up and the disk drive made that hideous groaning noise so familiar to Amiga owners of the period. And then it shut off.
Then it started up again.
Again and again the computer sputtered to life, appeared to start doing the Workbench thing, and then shut off.
Initially baffled, Piero peered at the power cable. Perhaps a short somewhere? "In Italy, there are two different standards for power plugs, the old linear one Type L, and the more recent German Type F.
"At the time, all house sockets were Type L, while most import electronic devices had Type F plugs, and required an adapter."
It was also very common to use an external device to make Christmas tree lights pulse in attractive fashion. That device, he said, "was remarkably similar in appearance to a power plug adapter..."
Piero carefully asked if he might check the adapter in case maybe, just maybe, something a bit more Christmassy was being used.
"NO! Impossible! That's not it!" was the retort, right up until the evidence proved impossible to deny. Piero fitted the correct adapter, demonstrated the prowess of Commodore's finest, gave the family some pointers on what they could do with it, and was on his way.
Other than some teenage smirking, he thought no more about it until years later when he was starting his IT career proper.
"I met by chance the mom of that family while she was visiting my parents," he said. There was much reminiscing over "the old days" before Piero learned what had actually happened after he'd left all those Christmases ago.
The husband had seemed quite laid-back as Piero had done his thing, but as soon as the door had closed behind the teen, he "quite calmly took the adapter/blinker down in the garage, took his hammer and smashed it to very tiny pieces while mumbling to himself 'how humiliating'..."
Ever felt that unpaid friends and family tech support wasn't just for Christmas, but seemed for life? Or explained correct functioning to a recalcitrant bit of kit with the aid of a hammer? Of course you have. Share your experience with an email to On Call. ®