You've stolen the antiglare shield on that monitor you've fixed – they say the screen is completely unreadable now

Scrub-a-dub-dub, we work in a fug

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.

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. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • UK government opens consultation on medic-style register for Brit infosec pros

    Are you competent? Ethical? Welcome to UKCSC's new list

    Frustrated at lack of activity from the "standard setting" UK Cyber Security Council, the government wants to pass new laws making it into the statutory regulator of the UK infosec trade.

    Government plans, quietly announced in a consultation document issued last week, include a formal register of infosec practitioners – meaning security specialists could be struck off or barred from working if they don't meet "competence and ethical requirements."

    The proposed setup sounds very similar to the General Medical Council and its register of doctors allowed to practice medicine in the UK.

    Continue reading
  • Microsoft's do-it-all IDE Visual Studio 2022 came out late last year. How good is it really?

    Top request from devs? A Linux version

    Review Visual Studio goes back a long way. Microsoft always had its own programming languages and tools, beginning with Microsoft Basic in 1975 and Microsoft C 1.0 in 1983.

    The Visual Studio idea came from two main sources. In the early days, Windows applications were coded and compiled using MS-DOS, and there was a MS-DOS IDE called Programmer's Workbench (PWB, first released 1989). The company also came up Visual Basic (VB, first released 1991), which unlike Microsoft C++ had a Windows IDE. Perhaps inspired by VB, Microsoft delivered Visual C++ 1.0 in 1993, replacing the little-used PWB. Visual Studio itself was introduced in 1997, though it was more of a bundle of different Windows development tools initially. The first Visual Studio to integrate C++ and Visual Basic (in .NET guise) development into the same IDE was Visual Studio .NET in 2002, 20 years ago, and this perhaps is the true ancestor of today's IDE.

    A big change in VS 2022, released November, is that it is the first version where the IDE itself runs as a 64-bit process. The advantage is that it has access to more than 4GB memory in the devenv process, this being the shell of the IDE, though of course it is still possible to compile 32-bit applications. The main benefit is for large solutions comprising hundreds of projects. Although a substantial change, it is transparent to developers and from what we can tell, has been a beneficial change.

    Continue reading
  • James Webb Space Telescope has arrived at its new home – an orbit almost a million miles from Earth

    Funnily enough, that's where we want to be right now, too

    The James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most complex space observatory built by NASA, has reached its final destination: L2, the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point, an orbit located about a million miles away.

    Mission control sent instructions to fire the telescope's thrusters at 1400 EST (1900 UTC) on Monday. The small boost increased its speed by about 3.6 miles per hour to send it to L2, where it will orbit the Sun in line with Earth for the foreseeable future. It takes about 180 days to complete an L2 orbit, Amber Straughn, deputy project scientist for Webb Science Communications at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said during a live briefing.

    "Webb, welcome home!" blurted NASA's Administrator Bill Nelson. "Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb's safe arrival at L2 today. We're one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can't wait to see Webb's first new views of the universe this summer."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022