People power made payroll support in putrid places prodigiously perilous

And don’t get us started on what it’s like to work around high explosives

On Call: Dirt File All good things must end, even the holidays - and with them On Call’s Dirt File, a special festive edition of our reader-contributed tech support trauma tales dedicated to the filthiest places techies have been asked to toil.

Let’s open with a reader we’ll call “Leonard” who turned up to a new job for a company that ran oil rigs to find computers next to an open window and covered in snow. He wiped off the snow, turned on a heater, and came back to find the machines’ cases had melted. Leonard moved the heater to stop the melting, and they kept working forever happily ever after.

That was the pleasant part of his job. Things were nastier when his employer was about to commission a new rig, because at the time that was the cue for unions to go on strike to extract better pay.

The strike was complicated by the fact that employees and contractors were paid different rates, but all collected their pay slips in the same office. Some jostling and intimidation ensued, which Leonard had to navigate when the printer producing pay slips ran out of ink.

“We avoided the heavies but risked upsetting the welders, or bears as they were known,” who were nervous of being short paid as well as being roughed up. It added a certain excitement pushing my way through a queue of around 200 growling welders with a fresh printer ribbon for a worried pay clerk.”

Another reader who we’ll call “Rogan” once worked at a giant open cut mine on the island of Bougainville, where the computer room occupied a temporary building perched on the lip of a mountain.

“The system ran a number of apps, the two key ones being real time scheduling of the monster trucks going up and down the mine, the other being the daily payroll of the local workforce,” Rogan told On Call.

But the apps weren’t very reliable.

“Every day at a set time there was a massive explosion as the mine blasted the next day’s material, which resulted in the computer room shaking hard,” Rogan told On Call.

The computers inside would crash most days and refuse to reboot without what Rogan described as “major surgery.”

“Business at the mine would come to a halt, and some of the workforce would then surround the computer room and start to throw rocks and anything else that came to hand.”

Why the hostility?

“No computer meant no work, no payroll and no pay ,” Rogan told On Call.

Yes, I will avoid the high explosives

Now let’s meet a reader we’ll call “Saul” who in his time as a military techie was asked to visit a naval base.

On arrival he completed all the necessary security checks but was stopped on his way to the datacenter.

The reason for the delay was that between Saul and his servers was a facility used to maintain sea mines, the floating explosives designed to sink ships.

“They just had opened one that can sink aircraft carriers,” Saul told On Call.

Pausing for a cup of tea while that killer was stowed away safely was the best idea of the day!

Let’s finish with a reader we’ll call “Tony” who told us he worked in a salt mine, and that while everything below ground was foul with residue caused by diesel engines, things were even nastier up top.

“One of the equipment stores has a comms cabinet inside, providing network to weighbridges and some CCTV,” he told On Call. And that store is tall shed that pigeons find an attractive roosting spot.

“The cabinet is caked in bird droppings and stinks like you wouldn't believe,” Tony wrote, adding that the mine copes with the situation with plastic sheeting.

“Luckily not much heat is generated by the equipment inside, so thermals are not a concern.”

But the stench remains. And so does the less-than-fantastic plastic.

“We have no plans to move this equipment, I just need to deal with it for now,” he told On Call.

Which feels like an appropriate moment to end the Dirt File.

But not, of course, to end On Call which will return in its usual form next Friday – and always needs more stories!

The yarns that work best tell a tale of being asked to fix things at unreasonable speed, in the face of ignorance, indifference, or indignance.

If you need more guidance, we’ve written nearly 500 On Call columns and they’re all available here.

If you fancy sharing a story, click here to send us an email.

Happy New Year! ®

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