Tell me your best IT Stories

I think we should really do something about Mondays. I mean, I don’t think there is one person out there who actually likes Mondays. I’m surprised we even keep them around. I’d say that on average they probably cause more unhappiness in everyone’s daily lives than disease, natural disasters, reality TV and lack of parking space at the mall. Someone should do something about it. I’m just saying.

On this fine Monday morning I decided that we should all sit around and complain. And so, I made this thread where we tell out best IT stories that feature annoying lusers who are to stupid to live. I’ll start it off, and you can join in at any time in the comments.

Wireless is Down

One nice summer day I was sitting at work, and productively banging my head against my desk hoping that this will maybe kill some brain cells, and allow me to relate to my users better. I assume it was summer, but frankly I don’t remember because I spent most of my days inside a cubicle, far away from windows and other sources of light. It could have been winter – it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I got a call, and had to answer it.

The company I worked for employed a lot of people who worked away from the main office. Some people telecommuted from their home offices, while others would travel and work from wherever. The guy on the other side of the line was just that type of the user, and he had a problem connecting to the internet. Of course since he was away from the office, the issue was more likely related to his ISP than us, but we were the first line of support for these folks. In situations like these, we were simply supposed to make sure that this is not a PEBKAC issue or a hardware failure. So we would troubleshoot whatever we could on the client side – check their settings, see if the hardware works, etc. If this was not a hardware/software/configuration issue we would just advise them to call the ISP.

But, a lot of networking issues can be magically solved by power cycling your router and gateway appliance. So I routinely would do this exercise with our employees. In best case scenario it resolved the issue and saved them lots of time they would otherwise spend waiting on hold with their ISP. In worst case, they already have performed the first troubleshooting step the ISP support would try.

Sometimes however you got a user who did not know what a router or modem was. They basically did not concern themselves with such issues, and tasked their spouse or son with network setup and/or talking to the ISP. So it was not uncommon for me to have to describe the device to them – you know, a little box with blinking lights and some cables sticking out of it. Some people had it set up in the living room by their media center. Some had it in their basement where the main phone box was. Some had to search for it a little bit. The guy on the other side of the line, had absolutely no clue.

In fact, he was confident that there is no blinkenlights box in his apartment. So I decided to hand him over to his ISP. I asked who handled his internet connection. He responded:

“I thought you were”

In fact, he informed me that he was planning to call us and complain about the signal strength. You see, few weeks ago he had a strong signal and could access the internet in any room. But at some point the signal dropped, and he was able to work only from the kitchen. Then the signal dropped entirely. Surely, this is no way to run a business.

Did I mention this guy was located somewhere in Texas while our office was in Jersey? Somehow he got it into his head that we magically beamed “the internet” to him, across half of the nation. It took me almost half an hour to explain to him that we don’t actually do that, and that he was probably leaching off his neighbors internet all this time. I told him that he should look into some inexpensive broadband internet plan – suggesting calling his Cable company to see if they offer it. The company may even foot the bill for him. When I was hanging up, I had the impression that he did not believe me at all. Turns out he called my supervisor right after our talk who basically told him the same thing. He never mentioned it again.

Spring Cleanup

Once upon a time, I was sitting in my cube contemplating whether I should commit suicide or just get some ice cream. If you have never worked in IT you probably won’t know, but these two things go hand in hand. When you work with users, you face the most extreme manifestations of human stupidity every day. It is frightening, and incredibly depressing. When faced with such unspeakable horror, most people reach for alcohol or drugs, but we IT folks are way past that point. You can only abuse these substances so much, until you build up almost complete immunity. Also, it is a bit difficult to be condescending and rude to the users when you are too drunk and stoned to even move. And since that is a crucial part of the job, we are left only with the two alternatives listed above.

I personally was leaning toward ice cream, but then a wild luser appeared and ruined my day. The creature that entered by cubicle was carrying a poorly maintained laptop that sported various cracks, grease stains and brown smears of unknown origin. Apparently the device stopped booting, which was not surprising considering it’s poor condition. I quizzed him on some of the standard troubleshooting questions on my checklist like:

Did you sit on it? Did you drop it into the toilet? Were you using it in the shower? You know, standard stuff. If I had a penny for every time someone at the company forgot that the laptops are not waterproof I would have like… Five pennies.

Turns out that the luser didn’t do any of that. The laptop just stopped booting on him, and he didn’t do anything to cause it. He didn’t install any software, he didn’t even touch it. It’s funny but when something breaks every fucking lusers will swear up and down that he was not even in the same room when it happened. I mean, it’s not like I will blame them for doing it just like I wouldn’t blame a mentally challenged person for accidentally saying something inappropriate. They just don’t know any better. But knowing how you broke the computer will help me fix it – so making up an alibi on the spot is counter productive. In fact, it is also stupid because I will find out what you did sooner or later.

The filthy computer was throwing up the NTLDR missing error when I booted it up. So I launched Knoppix and started poking around only to discover that the error was right. NTLDR file was not there. Neither was boot.ini, pagefile.sys and all the other garbage that resides in the root of the system drive. I asked the luser about it, and he scratched his head and said:

“Actually, I wanted to ask you about that stuff. I found all these useless files on my C: drive, and I figured that they were just taking up space so I deleted them.”

Apparently my friend read on the interwebs that you can reclaim hard drive space by deleting your temp files. The article showed him how to make windows display hidden system files and he went on a cleaning spree. Apparently he deleted pretty much every hidden file and folder he could find that was not in use. Then he used the machine for the rest of the evening, and powered it down for the night.

It didn’t even cross his mind that deleting bunch of hidden fucking system files could be in any way, shape or form related to his NTLDR Missing error message.

Needless to say, I skipped ice cream that day and committed ritual suicide in the employee bathroom. Twice.

Your turn kids. Post funny IT stories – they don’t have to be job related. Feel free to make fun of clueless friends relatives as well.

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13 Responses to Tell me your best IT Stories

  1. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    I was doing some porting of Excel macros to OpenOffice Calc macros with a colleague. He was to check the existing logic while I did the actual porting. He made some tweaks to the script and I saw that he hard-coded a lot of stuff. I told him that it was better to parameterize them instead and pointed out, as an example, that the sheet name can be parameterized. He asked why. I just replied, “Maybe we can reuse it and then it’s easier to change the sheet name if we use a variable.”

    “But if you need to change the sheet name, you can just do a Find And Replace All!” he proclaimed triumphantly.

    Needless to say, that become my job too.

    OT: I like Mondays actually. Fresh start to a new week. I hate Wednesdays. The freshness has worn off, work begins to stagnate and get to me, and the weekend is too far away to look forward to.

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  2. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    I was working in a media lab, and we had to transfer some files that were fairly large at the time – maybe 800mb in total. We could FTP them from one computer to the next, but I figured it’d be faster to move them over on an external drive of some sort. The person I was working with had a shiny new 1gb drive (I’d never seen one so big!), so I suggested we just use her drive. She was reluctant, and suggested a CD, but relented when I convinced her a temporary transfer wasn’t worth wasting a pair of CDs.

    Later on, she commented how expensive flash drives were compared to CDs. The 1gb drive had been ~$100, whereas a 700mb CD was ~$1. I said yeah, but you can re-use the flash drive, and her jaw dropped. Turned out she thought USB drives were read-only like CDs, and she’d been buying a new one once she filled an older one. She had about a dozen at home.

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  3. Gothmog UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I used to work for an IT shop for a Medical Imaging company- we had some transcription software that we would install on remote users home systems allowing them to listen to doctors prognoses and write down whatever gibberish they were spewing.
    Anyway, we would FedEx out a DVD with our software and set up an appointment to walk them through the install and configuration the next day.
    So I call up this crazy older lady who is of the ‘weapons-grade IT clueless’ variety. She lives with her son who is a.) at work and b.) has a one-month old Alienware PC upon which she would like to install the transcription software. I wonder if her son is going to be pleased with this, I think to myself as I instruct her to insert the DVD so we can get going. I use gotoassist to remote into her desktop after a few misfires where I had to explain to her advanced IT concepts like what a ‘window’ is and what I’m talking about when I use cryptic terms like ‘right-click’.
    Finally I’m seeing her desktop- the actual desktop is covered with game icons like Crysis and the like- I open up explorer and see that the system has two DVD drives. I click on each one in turn and am told both are empty…. Huh.
    “So- which drive did you insert the installation DVD into?” I ask.
    “The middle one…” she replies- “its the one with just a slot instead of those buttons… actually it didn’t want to fit very easily- I had to push it in hard-…”
    I pause. She has crammed the DVD in between the two DVD drives. I weep silent tears.
    After I patiently explain to her how that slot- in fact- is NOT a drive, I have two dissuade her from:
    a.) trying to fish around for the disc with i.) a screwdriver, ii.) a butter knife, iii.) an unbent coat-hanger
    b.) picking up and shaking the computer
    c.) opening up the desktop and pulling out the drive bays
    I tell her for the eighth time that I will simply FedEx another DVD to her and to please, *please* wait for her son to get home before taking any implement to his system.
    I hang up the phone and walk over to my ‘Users Are So Stupid’ Wall (TM) and proceed to bang my head against the usual worn spot.
    The next day she told me the DVD was actually *cracked* and has the nerve to disparage the disk brand, saying “My son works for Memorex, if it had been one of those, it wouldn’t have had a SCRATCH on it!”
    Unbidden, the silent tears come again.

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  4. SapientIdiot UNITED STATES Mozilla Linux Terminalist says:

    The place i do tech support for does not sell or support windows (just Ubutnu linux) computers. About once or twice a week though we’ll have a luser call in asking how to install windows on our machines. The luser NEVER knows how to boot from a CD (even though most of our machines do so automatically) and will inisist that I instruct them how to go about intsalling it.

    Other times, the slightly less dumb luser will call in telling me that they already installed windows and now sound or networking or some such thing isnt working, they almost always install windows without even checking to see if these things work in ubuntu so they can blame it on our hardware. It makes me smile every time i tell these people I can not help them. I usually end up telling them to call microsoft, even though i know thats not going to help them, its the quickest way to get them off the phone.

    And of course every now and then one of these lusers wont bother calling at all and will just bring down there nice shiny windows XP powered door stop to my office and ask me to fix it. I always yank out the power cord as soon as i see that XP logo, and tell them whatever the problem was I cant fix it.

    Oh and this is the job i do in my spare time, as volunteer work. Because it gives me serious lulz at times, and honestly tech supporting for Ubuntu really isnt that bad. Actually i made a game out of my job, check it out sometime: http://bit.ly/5zysGV

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  5. Rob UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Once upon a time, I was sitting in my cube contemplating whether I should commit suicide or just get some ice cream. If you have never worked in IT you probably won’t know, but these two things go hand in hand.

    Ahh, that made my day. Thanks!

    I had luser completely forget her password THREE times today. So I had to completely reset her passwords three separate times (because god forbid her passwords to different systems be different). Not as bad as your stories, but just on my mind today.

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  6. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux Terminalist says:

    @ jambarama:
    I knew many lusers that would do the opposite: they were used to floppies and couldn’t understand why they couldn’t delete files from CD-Rs.
    So they would drive to the store to return their CDs because they were “broken”.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Mart:

    LOL. This guy is upper management material – I can tell. :)

    Who needs good coding practices when we have refactoring tools.

    @ jambarama:

    Nice!

    Speaking of CD’s – I just remembered this one.

    A guy collected about a Gig of data in the field and he had to send it to the main office. Of course he couldn’t email it and the data was confidential, so using one of those upload services was out of the question. So he decided to burn the stuff on a few CD’s and overnight it to the office.

    Next the they CD’s came in, but no one could open the data. The person who was handling the case told us IT drones that the files on the disk were corrupted. So we got the sender on the phone, had him run some diagnostics on the drive, and then told him to shut down all the applications and burn on the lowest speed possible. We also sent him a replacement CD drive just in case. It was a laptop with a modular bay, so he just had to pull the old one out, and slide the new one in.

    Next day, a new batch of CD’s comes in the mail. Corrupted again. We have the guy replace the drive and try again. We ask him to call us back before he sends out the CD’s so that we can test them.

    An hour or so later he calls back, very annoyed calling me every name in the book for sending him a defective drive again, and a defective computer and everything. While he is raging, I suddenly get an idea. I get one of the CD’s he sent from the other department pop it into my machine and… It check out. I suddenly get it.

    Just to be sure I’m not jumping to conclusions I wait till the guy’s rage simmers down and ask him to walk me through the exact process of burning the files to the CD. It goes pretty much like this:

    1. Put the CD in and a windows opens up
    2. I drag and drop the files to the CD window
    3. I get a progress bar and it is “burning” the files
    4. The progress bar is done, so I pop out the CD and put it back in
    5. The files are corrupted again! It’s as if they were not there.

    I patiently ask him if he clicked the big “Burn these files to CD” button on the side bar.

    “How the fuck was I supposed to know you have to do that. You guys are fucking useless. I’m going to speak to your supervisor!”

    Then he slams the phone down so hard it bounces off the receiver, and flies somewhere under the table and I can hear him curse up a storm as he retrieves it and slams it down again. Fun times.

    @ Gothmog:

    LOL! I love explaining these “advanced IT concepts” to people. I once had to help a user to apply a patch of some sort to fix a shitty third party app. The procedure saving an attachment from Outlook into C:\Program Files\Shitty App Name. That was all he had to do. The guy just had no clue what I was asking him to do. Windows, toolbars and context menus were a mystery to him. So I tried to have him just drag and drop, but that didn’t work either.

    Finally I got remotely connected to his machine, opened Outlook, opened Program Files forlder, dragged, dropped. Done. He was mystified.

    “I didn’t know you could have more than one “screen” open at the same time” he told me.

    Somehow this guy managed to do his job for years without realizing he could have more than one document (or window for that matter) open at a time. He was also pretty impressed by the whole right-clicking thing as well.

    @ SapientIdiot:

    Love the bingo chart. I’m also jealous that you get to work with a real OS for a living. I’m currently trapped in a Windows Only shop.

    @ Rob:

    LOL. Been there, done that. The users at my current job have 6 different passwords. One to log in to their laptop (bios level pwd set by the disk encryption suite), one is their windows login, one is their email, one is the performance management app and one is the time management app. I have a sneaking suspicion that most of them use the same fucking password for everything – and that password is also used by their Yahoo Mail and Facebook login. So when they get phised, all their work accounts are gonna get compromised as well. :P

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  8. Matthew UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Luser = head of a computer science department at a university
    Me = student at the time

    Luser: “The mouse is frozen”
    Me: “Did you try restarting it?”
    Luser: “Yes, but it comes right back to the same screen with the mouse still frozen.”
    Me: “What!? Show me.”

    We walk over to the computer, he turns off the monitor, waits a bit, then turns the monitor back on. Yep, still frozen.

    (Okay, to be fair, this was a new Mac LC 2 or something, circa 1992, which had two switches when previous Macs had just one. The power switch, by the way, was right by the floppy disk drive, right where PC’s had their floppy eject button. When you pressed it to eject your floppy, you accidentally turned off the computer.)

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  9. jambarama Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    I’ve dealt with that frozen mouse problem more than I care to remember. Typically the mouse had come unplugged – heaven only knows how.

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  10. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Well, being a luser myself and not an IT person, I have probably more indulgence for my fellow morons. However, having also a little bit more exposure and understanding than most of them (like having read the proverbial freaking manual), I am often asked to perform basic IT tasks for non IT companies. Last time I regretted that very much.

    My manager, who is otherwise a rather nice and fairly modern person, asked me to create a simple way to make reports relating to letters we send to providers with repetitive information (address, price, destination, and so on). It is intended as a temporary system, as our provider will create a module for that this year (hopefully) in our main system. I tell him that this should be doable using standard Office software (our company uses MS products), but that I have never done it before, so I’ll try. I Google the issue a bit and conclude that a simple database, a couple of queries, a form and an output document should be perfect: the operation guys will just have to enter the new information into the form, they won’t have to enter anything repetitive, the database entry will allow basic reporting and stats and the output will be the bloody letters sent to the providers. I go as far as creating a prototype in Access with two or three real examples in it.

    Imagine my (hidden) rage when my boss irationally declares that this is never going to work, because he wants to just write the letter out of an existing template in Word and then have the data “magically” appearing in a spreadsheet for his statistics… sigh. I have announced that this project will demand more research from my part. I am secretly hoping that this “research” will last until our normal system provider comes out with the bloody module.

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  11. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Alphast:

    Ha! Good old “I just want to work in Word like I always do but with magical things happening in the background” request. I’ve seen it so many times.

    Here is a related story:

    The problem I was tasked to solve was this – our users can’t copy and paste. No seriously. We had these reports that contained bunch of excel work papers and a writeup sheet in word. On the writeup sheet there were blank spaces that said something like:

    Paste in the range A5:D14 from worksheet DP-47C from AR work paper

    98% of employees would do it wrong. Some would paste in the wrong range. Some would paste it in as a picture, making it impossible to modify during the review process. Others would paste in the right range, but then fail to resize it properly, resulting with only half the table being visible within printable margins.

    These documents would usually get reviewed by 3 different people. First a low level flunky to catch spelling mistakes and fix formatting, then a higher level person to catch the “logical errors” and then by the higher management types for quality control. The idea was that by the time the product arrives at the vip’s desk it will be in a decent condition. The vip will then give it once-over, sign off on it and the report will be sent to the client.

    Only it didn’t work that way. None of the low end people had the skill or patience to deal with the formatting errors. They were also expected to crank them out at high volume. So if they didn’t fix the tables they would get a 4.5 instead of a 5 out of 5 on their performance metric report and maybe a note in the “Needs Improvement” section on their annual report if they did this consistently. If the report was late however, they would be chewed out in person by like 7 bosses in a row (you know, like in Office space).

    So the task of fixing the fucked up tables fell on the 3 or 4 vips at the top of the review ladder. All of whom were clueless and pretty much had to have a dedicated IT person within shouting distance at all times to assist them.

    So the powers that be decided we need to automate this process. No more copying and pasting. We want to make it just work.

    So I pitched to them something like you did – consolidate all the different files into a single rigid file. Have immutable input forms for everything, and have it print out a report that looks exactly like the word document but is generated automatically. I even threw together some prototypes to show them how it would work.

    Everyone instantly hated the idea. It was shot down before I even finished explaining it. This was the opposite of what they wanted. They wanted “something” that looked exactly the same, but magical.

    Ok, fine. I took the document and linked the relevant tables to the excel files. This way the end users would simply need to keep all the files in the same folder and the tables would update themselves auto-magically. That’s pretty much exactly what everyone wanted.

    I pitched it up, everyone liked it at first so they decided to give it to a select group of the best-of-the-best, “technology literate” employees to use on their next assignment as a field test of sorts. It turned into a disaster, because the linked worksheets don’t update when you open the Word document from within a zip file from within Outlook attachment. Apparently saving attachments to disks and unzipping files cost them like millions of hours every day. Not to mention that the links would break when they renamed the excel files and moved it into different sub folders. That iteration of the project was scrapped as well.

    Eventually I ended up writing a set of VBA macros to “copy and paste” named ranges from excel into word and then “Auto Fit” them. The user would simply have to press a button, browse to an excel file and then hit “Import” and the tables will auto-magically appear where they need to be.

    For a while we had major issues with it, because people would rename or delete worksheets, recreate them, delete named ranges and all that stuff. Once we protected the excel files, and added some clever macros that will silently re-name everything back after they mess with it.

    For a little while all was good and everyone was happy. But the powers that be found a fatal flaw in the way this setup works. It does not “sync back” to excel. For example if a vip reviews the word document, and fixes some of the imported tables they don’t magically propagate these changes to the excel documents. They need to do that manually. They want me to work on fixing that.

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  12. Ugla DENMARK Google Chrome Windows says:

    Some years ago I worked in the support branch of a minor ISP, mainly catering to a semi-rural demographic. Some of the cases we had were really ridiculous. This is perhaps the on I remember best and find the funniest:

    This elderly lady called us, wanting aid in setting up her e-mail, a service we provided. I aided her to the best of my abilities, with the mandatory explanation of “right-click” and difference between hard drive and computer case. When we came to the actual spelling of the e-mail, which would start with a “q” she suddenly became very frustrated. Apparently her keyboard had no “q” key. I tried really slowly to explain to her where she might find it “In the upper left corner where all the letters are is where you will find q”. She was adamant, there was no “q”. We discussed this for something close to 10 minutes, when she suddenly has an epiphany. “Oh!” she goes “I didn’t recognize it because it is a capital Q”.
    I had to bite my tongue not to come with some snide remark about all the keys on the keyboard being capital letters.

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  13. Zeke UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    although i don’t fix things like those listed above, i actually take them apart for the help desk at the school i attend. It amazes me how stupid people are. i had to fix a computer that wouldn’t work, wouldn’t run, nothing. As i opened it up, taking the keyboards out, stuff like that. i saw they had plugged in 10 high powered speakers, jammed them wherever they fit, and the magnets wiped the computer clean. they weren’t even plugged into something that would even make them make a sound, just laying there. not only did they ruin it, it was the funniest thing i had ever seen. and yes these are laptops, and to this day i don’t know where he got the speakers, as they were the exact same speakers that come with that model laptop.

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