Did I or did I not ask you to double-check that the socket was on? Now I've driven 15 miles, what have we found?

IT idiocy by government is as old as IT itself


On Call Thundering IT incompetence by government is hardly new. While the antics of the present UK administration may have gone beyond satire, round out your week with an On Call reminder that things never really change.

Register reader "Bernard" (for that is what the Regomiser has called him) furnished us with this tale from the world of UK local government in the 1980s.

Back then, PCs were still a relatively new concept at the local authority where Bernard worked. To be frank, considering the rural location, electricity was likely also an innovation of which the locals were at once both fascinated and fearful.

The authority was split into different departments, each managed from different towns. Bernard was the sole source of desktop support. Lucky him.

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"One morning," he told us, "I took a support call." A PC did not appear to be working. In fact, it sounded very much like the PC was totally dead. Bernard suspected a power supply problem and commenced the phone fandango with which many of us are all too familiar:

"Is it plugged in?"

"Is it switched on?"

"Are the cables fully inserted?"

"Is it plugged into the wall socket?"

The user responded in the affirmative to all of Bernard's probing, eventually insisting that, yes, the wall socket was also switched on. It really, really was.

Sighing, Bernard packed up his car with a spare PC for the inevitable house call. The department in question was a 15 mile (24km) drive over "narrow, bendy, twisty" roads.

We suspect he might have been playing a bit of Colossal Cave Adventure in his spare time.

The drive was entertaining, but time-consuming. Fortunately, Bernard had set up all the hardware in the small department in the first place and knew where the problem PC would be found.

"Switched it on – nothing."

"Checked everything was plugged in – all OK."

"Plugged into the wall – OK."

Casually, Bernard leaned down and flicked the switch on the socket. The PC's monitor flickered into life.

"I reminded the idiot user that I'd specifically asked him twice to check the wall switch," Bernard told us. "Red-faced he sputtered a bit, something about it seeming OK to him.

"BTW, he was at least two pay grades above me, so was overly casual about my enquiries, me being a peon and all." We know exactly the type.

Bernard generously cut the user a bit of slack. The janitors had a habit of using those sockets for their vacuum cleaners and frequently left them off before putting the original plug back in (hence Bernard's request for a double-check). A precursor perhaps of the infamous floor polisher/life support urban legend, or more likely an example of the IT awareness that seems to persist in the bowels of UK government to this day.

Ever been called out due to mindless muppetry, or found that an important title (and pay grade) did not always translate into an ability to follow simple instructions? Of course you have, and you should share your memory of a lost morning with an email to On Call. ®


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