Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? Detroit waits for my order, you'd better make amends

I've worked hard all day on-call... you drive me round the bend


On Call Friday is here, and with it a story from the On Call archives to remind the unwary of the fiscal penalties that can arise when the patience of those at the other end of the line is tested.

Today's story comes from "Jack" and takes us back to the early 1990s, when chucking data around via satellite still had a certain novelty.

"My primary job," said Jack, "was maintaining the satellite distribution equipment for a major TV network. But after five or six years I'd managed to get things to the point that routine maintenance caught and fixed most potential problems before they became problems."

Routine maintenance is a wondrous joy and things ticked over nicely. However, it did mean that Jack's employer was paying rather a lot of money in order to keep him on standby. A bonzer wheeze was struck upon – setting up three metre satellite installations at automobile dealerships to allow them to connect to the factory for instantaneous inventory resolution.

No more iffy phone connections: the magic of satellite communications would mean a customer could order their new car and be immediately told when it would arrive. "Unfortunately for me," grumbled Jack, "the contract also called for me to be on site within 12 hours of any reported outage."

No good deed goes unpunished and all that.

On the day of the call, Jack was at a TV station, swapping out a Low Noise Amplifier (LNA) for a six-metre dish when his pager went off.

"It was one of the dealerships reporting that their satellite upline was stone cold dead, with no sign of life."

Less than keen on the 150-mile drive to the site, Jack tried the usual troubleshooting: yes, it was turned on. Yes, OF COURSE it was plugged in. And so on.

There was nothing else for it. He and his tools would have to make the three-hour drive to the dealership to solve the problem.

Upon arriving, he was told that the only person that knew anything about the satellite system was the manager, who had helpfully gone for lunch. Not keen on spending the next half hour perusing the wares of the dealership, Jack decided to take a look at the equipment, solo. "Yes, it was stone cold dead," he confirmed, "not even the cooling fans operating."

He looked further and saw that the hardware had indeed been plugged in, just as he'd been told on the phone. A six-way adaptor had been used, and it looked a bit crooked. Jack crawled under the table for a closer look. He gave the adaptor a firm push…

"When I did," he said, "I heard the power supply fans above me spooling up…"

The manager arrived just as Jack emerged from under the desk, and the satellite system sprang to life.

"Oh, you've got it working!" was the exclamation, "What did you do?"

Jack could have said a variety of things at this point. Perhaps flung out some of the technobabble of which we in our industry are so fond. Or maybe played it cool, with no more than a conspiratorial wink to indicate that an act of extreme cleverness had taken place.

Sadly, he did none of these things.

"I plugged it in," he blurted.

The failure to look at the power outlet, coupled with the charges incurred through a wasted seven hour and 300-mile round trip cost the dealership nearly enough to pay for one of Detroit's finest autos. Hopefully there was enough budget left over to purchase a marker to write "give the plug a shove" on the routine maintenance list.

There is a special breed of user that prefers to pick up the phone rather than attempt even the simplest of resolutions. Tell us about your experience with the special ones via an email to On Call. ®

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