Yes, there's nothing quite like braving the M4 into London on the eve of a bank holiday just to eject a non-bootable floppy

I can indeed make things magically disappear if I shout loudly enough


On Call A classic case of a user punching themselves in the face via the medium of technology awaits in this week's column dedicated to those brave professionals at the other end of the phone. Welcome to On Call.

Our story takes us back to the eve of chocolate egg day at some point in the 1990s. Our hero, Regomised as "Sean", was working as a field engineer and had been sent from his company's Midlands base to a customer site in Bristol. He'd been charged with the task of installing some new printers and "my boss had said that as soon as the job was finished, I could toddle off home for Easter – happy days!"

Sadly, as Sean was to learn, his boss had failed to take into account that special breed of user: the self-inflicted face-puncher.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The printer install went without a hitch (this was before Windows 10 and Microsoft's fetish for patches to fix patches) and Sean was done shortly after lunch.

His hopes of an early return home were short-lived. The office secretary called to ask if he could possibly call a customer in London who was having problems booting a computer. The computer that Sean had returned to them just the previous day, having replaced a faulty floppy disk drive.

It sounded suspiciously like the customer was trying to boot the machine with a non-bootable disk in the drive.

Leaving a non-bootable floppy in the drive was a common occurrence. The computer would cycle through the floppy drives during power up before booting from the hard disk. Leaving a non-bootable floppy (say, a disk of documents) in the drive would usually result in some bleating from the computer before forehead was slapped and disk removed.

Dutifully, Sean called the customer "and was immediately greeted with a tirade of abuse" about the obviously faulty computer he'd left there. Holding the phone from his ear, Sean waited for the ranting to pause before delicately suggesting the user remove the disk and try again.

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The ranting went up a notch as the customer shrieked "I'm not STUPID! There is NO floppy in the drive!"

More serious for Sean's dreams of an early return home was the insistence that the problem be fixed NOW! A letter for the managing director needed to be typed and the computer HE repaired didn't work!

"Unfortunately for me," Sean told us, "we didn't have an engineer in London that day, and after a quick call to my boss, I was on the M4 heading for London.

"Being the day before the bank holiday, the traffic was awful and central London was one big traffic jam, so much so that it was gone five before I arrived at the customers offices."

Sean was met in reception by the very unhappy managing director of the company who led him directly to the secretary's office where the offending computer squatted, error still on the screen and…

…the cause of the problem was obvious from 20 feet away.

Sean walked over to the computer and ejected the disk from the drive.

"To say the secretary was red-faced was an understatement," said Sean, recalling that the employee suddenly had an urgent appointment with the lavatory and rushed from the room, cheeks ablaze.

"The MD muttered an apology," he told us, "and thrust £20 into my hand for my trouble and also beat a hasty retreat to his office."

Sean's boss was deeply ticked off on Sean's account, and ensured the customer was stung for the full cost of his time from leaving Bristol until his eventual return home after 8pm.

"Thankfully," Sean said, "the incident had an upside, and at the end of the month I found a nice little bonus had been added to my wages.

"Which appeased the wife for the ruined dinner my late arrival home caused."

Ever had a customer put two and two together and insist loudly that the answer was "jelly", or were too busy punching themselves in the face to spot the solution in front them? Share your woe with an email to On Call. ®

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