On Call We all know users can be disgusting. However, not all of us have to get up and close and personal with their filth. Welcome to the grimier side of On Call.
Our story takes us back to the halcyon days of the 1980s, and the antics of John, a student apprentice working in a factory.
"I spent quite a while in the Electronics Repair department, which looked after everything on the factory floor, but also included looking after the computers in the office area."
There was an eclectic mix of kit in use. Apple IIs, the odd Commodore PET, some of those new-fangled IBM XT computers, and also the inevitable PDP11, replete with dozens of ancient peripherals hanging off it.
This was the time of "make do and mend" rather than the disposable culture foisted upon IT by hardware that cannot be repaired.
So John was a busy fellow. As apprentice, he was the first line of support and got sent to sort out problems around the site. One department he dreaded going to, however, was the place where the bean counters lurked.
"Everyone in Accounts chain-smoked," he explained. "We only ever went in there to get purchase orders countersigned." Such was the fug in the air, "you really needed a gas mask."
It was therefore inevitable that young John was called into the befouled room to deal with a monitor that appeared to have failed. The text was dim, the brightness knob didn't seem to do anything and unless it was swiftly repaired or replaced, invoices would not be raised nor expenses paid. With breath held, John retrieved the unit and took it back to his workbench.
Sure enough, the screen was hard to read. "I was removing the back to look at things like cathode currents and anode voltages," he told us, "when I touched the screen. It felt weird."
His fingers were... no longer the same colour. He look closer at the screen and, surprise surprise, "there was something like a 1/4" layer of tobacco tar on it."
So our hero rolled up his sleeves, donned a mask, grabbed a spatula, broke out the ethanol and detergent, and got scrubbing.
"I got it spotless," he told us, proudly, "and there was loads of spare brightness."
It was getting late in the afternoon by this point, but he got the screen back to the user regardless. Same day service and all that. And there was much rejoicing at the now-readable numbers.
- What came first? The chicken, the egg, or the bodge to make everything work?
- How do you call support when the telephones go TITSUP*?
- Swooping in to claim the glory while the On Call engineer stands baffled
- A lightbulb moment comes too late to save a mainframe engineer's blushes
Rejoicing, that is, until the following morning when sky was clear and the sun bright. John's boss wandered over and said: "John – you've REALLY upset accounts, they reckon you've stolen the antiglare shield on that monitor you've fixed, they say the screen is completely unreadable now.
"Where is it? You need to give back right now!"
John was stumped. WHAT anti-glare screen?
And then he understood what had happened. And what the bean counters had thought their layer of filth was.
"So we filled in a purchase order for a Viking screen protector, with Accounting's own cost centre on it."
Sparing John's lungs, his boss trotted over, "suggesting that not only would it fix the glare, but if they replaced it every so often, it would catch most of the tar too."
Ever had to live a life of grime while On Call, and delicately explain to a user that the human-generated coating on their hardware could be the cause of at least one fault? Let us know with an email to On Call. ®