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This is the military – you can't just delete your history like you're 15

Not all tracks can be hidden and some things can't be unseen

On Call Welcome to an On Call where on-site misdeeds resulted in the most dishonorable of discharges.

Our story, from a reader we have Regomized as "Jones", takes place in the early years of this century and concerns some military gear supplied by his company.

While the computers (which ran Windows) were not connected to the internet for obvious reasons, they were powerful beasts and used for processing images and operating equipment. During training, the operators were told that while the kit was capable of playing music or movies, it was strictly forbidden to go sticking DVDs or external storage devices into them. Nothing was to be inserted into the various ports or slots without express permission from the designated person on site.

Sadly, simply disabling the USB sockets (or filling them with glue) was not an option since data occasionally had to be downloaded from the hardware. The same applied to the DVD drive.

Time passed, and one particular site developed the annoying habit of frequently going down, sometimes several times a week.

"Part of our job," said Jones, "was if there was a problem with a site, we dropped whatever we were doing and by any means necessary got a tech to the site.

"Now I can tell you that getting to some sites took a bit of creativity and trust. You call, we haul."

And haul he did. With some of the military sites lurking deep in the desert, being On Call was a particular challenge.

The computer itself had a very large (for the time) hard disk, divided into four partitions with two used for image storage. Part of the operator training was to take current images, once a certain size had been reached, and shunt them into another partition for archiving, and then delete the original.

"In those partitions were some hidden folders that kept data about operating parameters and resource usage along with thumbnails," explained Jones.

On this one desert site, the computer kept falling over, or running painfully slowly. After a few call-outs, Jones decided to dig a bit deeper and find out what was going wrong. The computers weren't on the internet, did not take updates, and every couple of months a full reinstall would happen ("you know how Windows always works better on a fresh install," commented Jones).

So why was this one failing?

There was a small leftover bit of the partition, intended for swap files. It was also where hidden files lurked, created when, say, looking at images and viewing videos.

Armed with an account of suitable privilege, our hero opened up the hidden folder and archive. And probably wished he hadn't.

"I found a ton of thumbnails with timestamps and source data for each…"

It appeared that the personnel assigned to the post were a bit bored, and so would occasionally pop in an external storage device in order to watch videos of a NSFW nature. The timestamps made identification of the culprits easy. The limited space meant that there was less capacity for swapping, hence the sluggish performance and occasional lock-ups.

"Unfortunately for them," said Jones, "even though they were very diligent in covering their tracks, they missed that hidden archive file."

What to do? Since the poor performance and crashes were nothing to do with what the computer was designed for, Jones opted to download the evidence and present it to the powers that be. He also tweaked the configuration so the USB ports could only be used to download data.

And the pair with the mucky military habits? Stripped of their respective ranks, they spent the rest of their tour doing hard labor before being shipped back for a dishonorable discharge and a stint behind bars, according to Jones.

Ever been called out to deal with a performance problem and seen something you couldn't unsee? Or told users to never, ever do something you knew they would do the moment the door closed behind you? Share the call-out you'd rather forget with an email to On Call. ®

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