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Cleaner ignored 'do not use tap' sign, destroyed phone systems ... and the entire building

The natural enemy of the IT pro is the builder – they’ll cover you in dust, hose you down, or worse

On Call Well, look at that: the clock says it's Friday morning so it must be time for a new installment of On Call, The Register's weekly column describing readers' triumphs over adversity, mendacity, and stupidity.

This week, a couple of stories we collected during 2022 that describe nature's most terrible rivalry: the coming together of an IT professional and a construction professional.

Let's start with "Clarence", who spent a couple of years installing security systems and found himself called upon to do so in a new museum that commemorated the heroes of South Africa's struggle against apartheid.

Clarence installed a very nice phone system and intruder alarm at the museum and placed the main controller in a large central duct as this was the easiest place to route the necessary wires.

The importance of the museum meant that South Africa's Culture Minister was scheduled to open it on the Tuesday after Easter despite the museum being unfinished and a few months behind schedule.

Early on that morning of the ministerial visit, someone reported water pouring out the front door. The cause was a lake, about a meter deep, that had formed inside the museum.

It was not an exhibit! Instead, it was the result of a plumber tightening two pipes by hand, then taking off for the long Easter weekend with the museum's plumbing in a fragile state.

To prevent accidents, said plumber left a note not to touch the museum's main stopcock.

But the resulting low water pressure was noticed on Easter Saturday by a cleaner who tried to fix it by turning on the main stopcock full blast.

Which proved rather too successful: high-pressure water poured out for the next 60 hours.

It went unnoticed for a while because it first filled the duct in which Clarence had placed his wiring. But over time it burst open the internal doors and flooded the place.

"The building was a write-off," Clarence told On Call. "The Culture Minister came, took one look and got back in her car."

As the clean-up began, one of the first items found was the "Do not touch this stopcock" sign the plumber had left behind.

The story has at least one happy ending: Clarence was paid for the job even though his work washed away.

Now let's meet "Henry" who arrived in a still-under-construction hosting facility to inspect the lovely new tape library it would be his duty to tend.

"We'd been crying for years to get this library to replace an obsolete model," Henry reminisced to On Call. So it was ordered and delivered even while the hosting company readied the spot in which it would live.

He looked forward to seeing that, and to watching the machine work.

"When you glanced through its window – yes, it had a window – you could see the demented acceleration and speed of the robotic arm as it went from frame to frame to move tapes between slots and drives!"

But when Henry arrived for his first look at the beast, he found white powder. Lots of it.

No, not that sort of white powder! This white powder had been produced by someone wielding a sanding machine as they prepared the tape library's home.

"The paint job was immaculate, but tape library was covered with in thin powder."

Henry turned up the next day with a vacuum cleaner, a forest's worth of tissues, a bucket of water, and other cleaning tools. He then cleaned the entire machine, and its dozens of tape slots, by hand.

That effort made it possibly to put the library into operation. But every single drive failed within a year.

"I'm still angry at the otherwise nice guys at this hosting company," Henry told On Call. "How could they be so stupid to not call us before sanding the wall, so we'd have moved the library at a different time?"

If you have a story to enter into the hallowed halls of On Call, click here to send us an email. ®

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