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Tales of IT Idiocy 181

snydeq writes "IT fight club, dirty dev data, meatball sandwiches — InfoWorld offers nine more tales of brain fail beyond belief. 'You'd think we'd run out of them, but technology simply hasn't advanced enough to take boneheaded users out of the daily equation that is the IT admin's life. Whether it's clueless users, evil admins, or just completely bad luck, Mr. Murphy has the IT department pinned in his sights — and there's no escaping the heartache, headaches, hassles, and hilarity of cluelessness run amok.'"
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Tales of IT Idiocy

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday January 23, 2012 @12:56PM (#38793065)

    It's not really IT related, but in a similar vein to some of these stories, the worst workplace war I've ever seen erupted over a parking space. Here were two college-educated adults, both of whom made over $100,000 a year--at war with each other because one maintained that he had been assigned said space (even though it wasn't marked) and the other kept parking there. Combine that with weak leadership at the company, and bam!, you had an escalation that got fucking crazy. First it was potshots and pranks, then they started keying each others' cars. Then they were openly screaming at each other in the office. It only ended when the cops had to get involved (they were calling each other with death threats and one of them showed up to the other's house with a gun). They both ended up with restraining orders...and also pink slips (when management finally woke up and realized they were both nuts).

    When you're in the city, people take their parking spaces VERY seriously. And little things can become very big (in your mind) if you obsess over them long enough.

    But, hey, if the assassination of one dipshit Archduke could start a World War and one little fruit vendor setting himself on fire could start the Arab Spring, I guess any little thing can spark a fire.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:03PM (#38793183)

    Anyone have a Greasemonkey script on-hand that automatically hides stories containing links to, or do I have to whip one up on my own?

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:03PM (#38793185) Homepage

    The Daily WTF [] has a lot of fantastic stories about what not to do. The stories include horrific interviews, code that makes you want to squirm at best, and plenty of IT mistakes.

  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:05PM (#38793195)
    "Document keeps formatting. Tried to go on different machines but still not working"

    Where is the document? What program is the document for? Filename? Purpose? Anything? Nothing.... as well as obviously not knowing what 'formatting' means, as neither the computer-sense nor the page-laying-sense fit there.
  • Save your clicks! (Score:5, Informative)

    by milbournosphere ( 1273186 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:13PM (#38793351)
    Just go to []

    They'll have more tales of idiocy, and you won't feel like you need to take a shower afterwards. Seriously, InfoWorld, SIX pages? That's a WTF in itself.

    • by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:12PM (#38794409)

      And to add to the Monday doldrum... a blast from the past

      The bastard operator from hell [] :)

    • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @03:37PM (#38795935) Homepage Journal

      Seriously, InfoWorld, SIX pages? That's a WTF in itself.

      Nah; "WTF" generally refers to things that make no sense. In this case, what InfoWorld and zillions of other sites are doing makes perfect sense. You just need to understand that they want money, and their main way of getting it is by running ads past their viewers. This gives them a strong incentive to break articles up into small chunks, so you have to click from one to the next to read an article. That way, they can show that you clicked on N copies of an ad, rather than just one, and get N times the $0.002 that they're paid by the ad agency for each click.

      It's just a variant of the long-running practice of newspapers, of putting pieces of a story on several different pages, each piece surrounded by ads that you try not to glance at. It's how news distribution has always worked, and moving to the internet didn't change much of anything.

      The econ theory guys sometimes refer to a situation like this as a "perverse incentive".

  • by mwfischer ( 1919758 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:15PM (#38793369) Journal

    Reading InfoWorld is about number 6 or so.

  • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@tpn o - c o .org> on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:15PM (#38793379) Homepage

    In my time I have seen some amazing examples of idiocy.

    I once had to lecture some linux admins as to the nature of ntpd and how they don't have to be constantly logging in to set the time, but here's the brilliant part of that equation: someone had come up with a "login script" idea, that used ntpdate to set the time. So all they had to do was log in to the system and the time would be automatically set. I only got involved when they were trying to develop an automated login system so they wouldn't have to log in to 500+ linux servers, constantly, all to keep the time set. I actually had to argue with them, to show they what ntpd could do. It was unreal.

    Then there was the time I found windows admins that thought you had to have a user account for every machine you joined to a domain. A unique user account. A unique administrative user account. And because they had several thousand machines, password maint was a nightmare...or at least would be, except they came to the conclusion that using an easy to remember password on all of these administrator accounts was an easier solution.

    • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:21PM (#38793447)

      here's the brilliant part of that equation: someone had come up with a "login script" idea, that used ntpdate to set the time. So all they had to do was log in to the system and the time would be automatically set.

      Now what would be funnier, that login name having to be "root" or having ntpdate SUID root...

      • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@tpn o - c o .org> on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:32PM (#38793655) Homepage

        Given the obvious competence level of these admins, do you think they knew how to make ntpdate work as a non-root user?

        Ya, neither do I. And yes, they were logging in as root....with a shared public/private key set. Note: BOTH private AND public keys were shared amongst all 500 servers.

        Because ssh keys are more secure, don't you know.

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:53PM (#38794021)

          Given the obvious competence level of these admins, do you think they knew how to make ntpdate work as a non-root user?

          Ya, neither do I. And yes, they were logging in as root....with a shared public/private key set. Note: BOTH private AND public keys were shared amongst all 500 servers.

          Because ssh keys are more secure, don't you know.

          And none could figure out the "hard" ssh command line option to run a command ...? (ssh can run rsh-like).

          Then again, I'd shudder to think what the shell script owuld look like. Probably 500 lines starting with "ssh".

          I'm surprised they didn't have some hokey user account whose sole purpose was on login to run ntpdate and kick you off.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:46PM (#38793893) Journal

      but here's the brilliant part of that equation: someone had come up with a "login script" idea, that used ntpdate to set the time.

      Holy crap. I can understand being ignorant of ntpd, but not even being aware of cron is criminal.

      • by ae1294 ( 1547521 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:36PM (#38794897) Journal

        I can understand being ignorant of ntpd, but not even being aware of cron is criminal.

        Whoa, I just looked up cron.. My god you just saved my job man! I couldn't get my sleep script to run in the background right... Jesus I've spent 4 weeks on this job and now I can move on to the next. Getting every system to default saving files to root:root from smb shares!

        Thanks for saving me...

  • by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <onyxruby@comc[ ].net ['ast' in gap]> on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:16PM (#38793397)

    Fortune 25 contractor promises another Fortune 25 client that they can migrate their entire operation without a single desktop engineer. This was a 140 million dollar contract. Client also promised that their network conversion from 10Mb hubs to 100Mb switches would be finished before we started and then postponed the network conversion.

    When everything was said and done lawyers for both companies mutually decided that I was the best the person on the ground with the best insight into why things fell apart. I was told by lawyers on both sides I would be subpoenaed as the primary witness and that the trial was expected to take about four months. I wasn't being blamed by either side, I was just the one who knew what the hell was going on.

    When you testify as a witness (vs expert witness) you are limited to a $50 court fee and can't be otherwise reimbursed. I would have been financially ruined for other peoples idiocy and figured out a perfectly honest way to get out of situation their idiocy created.

    I told lawyers for both sides that I would appear and testify, and they would neither one like what I had to say. They settled two days later.

  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:19PM (#38793423) Homepage Journal

    They were running an older CRM version that still used direct file access.

    Because of this, their backup solution (for which they hadn't bought the live file backup module) would fail every night due to someone in the office leaving the program open.

    So they "fixed" it.

    6 months down the road they had a server crash and lost everything.

    So we're like "Okay, let's roll to backups. There's still data loss, but minimal, a day or so."

    Uh. What backups?

    Their "fix" had consisted of simply deleting that CRM program's directory from the backups (see: NOT BACKING IT UP) so their backup reports were all nice and pretty.

    The latest real backup this company had was over 6 months old.

    The company that was in place to handle their IT was out on the curb with smoking ears and a boot-print on the ass shortly afterward.

  • Shark Tank. (Score:5, Informative)

    by bmo ( 77928 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:23PM (#38793481)

    >only 10 submissions of fail in the TFA.

    Someone already mentioned the Daily WTF, so I'll post its little brother.

    Always an interesting read. []


  • by The Moof ( 859402 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:23PM (#38793483)
    ...and they'll just make a better idiot. Two gems I've gotten over the years are:

    "I can't log in when I type in my password! It's broken!" - The problem? They weren't typing in their username, they were only typing in their password.

    My all time favorite was a customer who was very unhappy with an application we had created for them to send out event invitations and what not. I get an angry e-mail passed to me. The claim: "Whenever I type in someone's e-mail address, instead of e-mailing that person, the system figures out who their spouses and children are, and sends them the notification instead!" I had to repeatedly confirm that what they're describing is not possible. Even then, the person still angrily refused to believe me. If I were to create software that somehow psychically figure out all of that information, I'd be very rich, and probably be working for the government.
    • by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:02PM (#38794181)

      it kind of is possible, many people have email accounts that direct to several mailboxes, like If your app was sending to an unknown name at the front of that (instead of 'dave@family' it was 'whoever@family') then its possible it got delivered to all accounts using that shared mailbox system.

      Not that I'm saying this is what happened, but something along those lines due to some wacky configuration.

      Moral: never disbelieve the user, although what they say is impossible, when you look at it, you find that not only is it possible, it's also happening. If only we could get the users to describe it in terms a tech would understand.

      • by tilante ( 2547392 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:29PM (#38794759)
        Yep. Although more fun is when users try to describe in "tech terms", but don't actually understand the terminology, so their 'explanation' just muddies the issue further.

        Generally my talking-to-the-end user script goes like this:

        - What program were you using?

        - What were you (clicking on, typing, whatever)?

        - What did you expect to happen?

        - What happened instead?

        If they're getting an error message, I'll get them to send me a screenshot or cut-and-paste it. I've had way too many times when someone's managed to paraphrase the actual error message they're getting into something completely different.

        Generally the best, though, is to actually sit them down and get to do whatever produces the problem in front of you. It's the problems that can't be reproduced at will that are the fun ones to figure out....

      • by The Moof ( 859402 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @03:33PM (#38795855)
        Oh, I do assume that the impossible happens quite a bit (I've seen enough "that shouldn't be possible" problems). I had told the end user that might be what's happening, or that the recipient forwarded it to a home address shared among the family. They didn't believe me, swore it was the system doing all of this (and instructed me to fix it).
      • by Verteiron ( 224042 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @03:37PM (#38795933) Homepage

        "Never disbelieve the user" is right. One of my early tech support calls (many moons ago) was from a guy who claimed his computer rebooted every time he flushed his toilet.

        Yeah. I figured he was yanking my chain, but you can't just hang up on people, so after humoring him for a few minutes we actually set up a tech visit.

        We fixed him up, at least temporarily, by installing a UPS for his system.

        He lived way out in the boonies and used well water and a septic tank. Turns out when he flushed, not only did his computer reboot, but his lights flickered for a moment, too. Flushing the toilet activated some power-hungry pump in his water system, and the draw was browning out his computer.

    • by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @04:36PM (#38796747)

      I once worked at a place where the Windows group policy was to enter the username on all logins (it was really to wipe the previous username). So unlike most other Windows shops, you had to type both to log in. The system was set up so that we get messages about repeated erroneous logins, including the computer name, username, and time. We use to get notices all the time that someone was logging into a particular computer with usernames like S33Y0uL@t3r and !L0veY0u.

  • Infoworld (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spykk ( 823586 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:28PM (#38793569)
    We get a lot of fluff pieces on the front page of slashdot via Infoworld and I've always wondered what mechanism they are using to get such high returns. Do they have their employees vote up stories in the firehose, or are their articles genuinely interesting enough that they earn their place on the front page? If they are "gaming the system" somehow is that something that slashdot's staff should be policing?

    I'm not trying to cry foul or call anyone out. I'm just curious about what drives some of the patterns that emerge on slashdot. If someone from either Infoworld or slashdot could weigh in that would be great.
    • by epine ( 68316 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @03:55PM (#38796151)

      Pretty bad. I didn't think it was anything new, and the writing style was a sloppier version of the Darwin awards, as I remember them from when I gave up on them six or eight years ago. (Some of the stories were less than properly verified.)

  • by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:44PM (#38793857)
    In college - this was some 20 years ago - I once had a classmate who in the Computer Center did an assignment, and then exited the application without saving, and then tortured the help desk over retrieving the work he had done, which, needless to say, they couldn't. When he complained about the unhelpfulness of the help desk, I & my other friends had such a laughing fit that he got offended & left. There ain't too many things I've found as funny as that incident.
    • by Creepy ( 93888 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:42PM (#38795015) Journal

      I have a bunch of those from that era - here's a couple:

      User is used to Word Perfect, but has to use WordStar. User wants to print, so presses Control-P. Wordstar erases (p = purge in WordStar, print in Word Perfect) the document and the user hadn't saved it first. There was no confirmation dialog back then, either. An hour of typing a news article gone in a second.

      User on a mac using Microsoft Word chooses Revert, but didn't know Revert means go back to the last saved version of the document and loses 2 hours of work. Note: Microsoft changed this from something like "Revert the document?" to "Are you sure you want to revert to the previously saved version" in the next version of Word probably due to a lot of user error and tears.

      Unrelated to those, but related to TFA - when I was in college I heard one of the labbies (technically computer lab teaching assistants) was fired and kicked out of school but not details. I was friends with his roommate, so I ask what happened and found out he had been running a million+ dollar a year porn site off of the University servers (and this is the relatively early days of the public internet). If I had any doubts to the truth of it, they were alleviated a few days later when we all had to sign a code of conduct waiver, which included running sites of pornographic nature...

    • by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <> on Monday January 23, 2012 @05:22PM (#38797279)

      Only distantly related, but ... A long time ago I was writing code on a Perq workstation. The editor had a nice feature - it maintained a transcript of every change, and you could replay it. This became very useful once when I was working madly under deadline, and failed to save the file for ... wait for it ... 36 hours (yes, it was an all-nighter and then some). And the machine crashed - actually I think the power got cut. But with the transcript feature I was able to replay the entire 36 hour editing session, watching myself do my editing. It was rather fun, actually. Of course it was much faster than the original - I think it took an hour or so. And I was redeemed from my stupidity.

      I loved the transcript feature - it was useful any time the machine or the program crashed, as it could restore everything up to the last disk write that succeeded. You could also pause and continue, so if you went off on a dead-end, you could replay up to the point where you started going the wrong way and stop, step backwards or forwards to the point where you had something worth keeping, and then save or start editing at that point.

      I think it would be great for any text editor to do this.

  • by mbaGeek ( 1219224 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @01:48PM (#38793935) Homepage
    users who don't know anything aren't the problem - users who don't know anything but think they know everything are the problem ...
  • Tales from the trenches [] has some horror stories as well.

    The Trenches [] comic is off to a slow start, I can't decide if I like it or not, but the QA tales below it are worth a read, IMO. I especially like this one [], because it's so true; In many projects where "ship it" becomes as much a battle cry as a new form of profanity, and not just in Game development...

  • by BBF_BBF ( 812493 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:07PM (#38794279)
    I actually slogged through reading the whole Original Article and it seems like the editors at CIO don't know the difference between USER incompetence and incompetence in the IT department. Most of the "USER" issues were issues with the IT group, others were systematic failures... I particularly like the one where "IT" comes in and saves the day when "IT" diff's a developers' files and finds he's a bad developer, whereas the whole software Engineering department couldn't figure it out... yeah, right.
  • by Beeftopia ( 1846720 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:15PM (#38794489)

    A developer's life (1:44 minutes, SFW) []

    Haunting really :-)

  • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:57PM (#38795309) Journal

    Okay, serious question. Is it really a bad idea to make people's email addresses public? the article makes it seem like this is a bad practice. To me, if you are counting on email addresses to be private, that you have some crappy security going on.

    ""We took the roster of employees of our two largest offices and checked their corporate email addresses to see which were accessible off the Web. Out of 178 employees, 138 corporate email addresses were easily discovered -- like two or three clicks off Google. That alone surprised me."

  • by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @03:20PM (#38795645)
    A few years back, my email stopped working and I couldn't fix it. So I called our IT, and was firmly rebuffed with a "Send us an email and we'll fix your problem.". Their stupidity astounded me. When I recovered from the shock I went over to their floor and pounded on their locked door until the someone answered it. At that point I said loudly enough so that the entire floor could hear, "I can't send you an email, because as I told you on the phone my email is broken! Are you stupid or something?!". It was fixed in 10 minutes.

    No, I didn't get in trouble for the insult, but the ITs new policy of only dealing with issues submitted via email was history by the next day.
  • by Tarlus ( 1000874 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @03:56PM (#38796163)

    I work in IT. I once received a help request from a person in a computer lab who told me that their screen would only display blackness, regardless of moving their mouse or tapping the keyboard. The monitor was on. So, I came to take a look, and sure enough, the screen was black.

    Know why?

    Because the fucking computer wasn't even there. It had been removed for service and the "Out of order" sign taped to the monitor somehow wasn't enough of an indicator.

    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 ) <ross.quirkz@com> on Monday January 23, 2012 @05:31PM (#38797385) Homepage
      I took a call from someone with a similar problem: trying to use the computer but getting a black screen. I eventually determined the problem was they were just pressing the power button on the monitor. When I asked them about the computer that should be attached to the monitor, I got "Greg took his laptop with him, does that mean I can't use his computer?" They were trying to use the monitor and keyboard without any computer attached.
  • by Vrallis ( 33290 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @06:22PM (#38797977) Homepage

    Retail store decided to move the main front counter of the store. It wasn't permanently fixed to the flooring, but was hard-wired in with electrical and serial connections (serial terminals and printers). The decided it would be okay to just put eight people to work and lift the whole thing at once to drag it over about a foot. With the serial terminals and printers on it. Plugged in. Turned on.

    After a couple inches they got a nice *POP POP POP* and puff of smoke off each piece of gear. Not just on the counter, but every piece of gear in the entire store, including the server. We had to send someone in a truck 400 miles with an entire store worth of new gear.

    Once I got the server back in my hands, I saw pretty good evidence of what happened. When I opened it up, half of the multi-port serial card was burned out. Most of the ICs were literally vaporized, some to the point of leaving burn marks in the bottom of the case as well.

    The best we can guess was that hot and perhaps ground on the incoming electrical Romex into the counter were shorted together, frying the gear on the counter, and sending the surge back through the serial connection (done over CAT5) to the server, and managed to get back out of the serial card to all the other gear in the store before the connections vaporized. The CAT5, however, seemed to have fared well with no obvious damage.

  • A while ago, I worked at a small print shop that was bought out and went from being run by a print guy to being run by ex-corp IT people. They spent their retirement money on this place thinking it would be relaxing. Then then found out how non-tech it was and off we went to turn a low-tech print shop into a high-tech outfit.

    They had vision of being something like Vistaprint is now, except this was in 1999-2000 when that sort of thing hadn't been invented yet.

    In any case, they started this project to scan in all print jobs in order to make it easy to reprint stuff -early on, they had dealt with a really nasty print job that took tremendous labor because they had no way to do reruns without doing a whole redo -and then the only guy who knew how to make it work quit. So the owners spent more cash and we got much better equipment. Saving everything became the mission and we got a file server and a network (10mbit wooh!) and PCs for the staff and really went tech. Most of it worked and we did good work. I was hired for labor and ended up running the IT side.

    The only problem with this "save everything mantra" s that the print jobs were all saved as .TIF files and there were a LOT of them in short order. We were having to add hard drives constantly and they were special HP server drives and it cost a lot. With the retirement money spending like crazy, the bosses refused to buy drives to keep up with it. I was forced to keep near-line data on a creaky Tandberg tape drive that took hours to run. But we still lacked space.

    One afternoon, we're off at a client's shop and the boss happily blurts out that HE has solved the space issue. Dumbfounded, I dared ask how. This guy was a nice man, but no tech expert. I knew there was a bad answer coming. He says he's looked through the server and found where all the space was being used up. These bulky TIFF file things. Since he didn't know what they were and they took up space, he proudly told me he had someone back at the office that second erasing all of them. Then, I would not need hard drives! Problem Solved!

    About 30 seconds later, he was several shades paler and sweating and on the phone trying to get the person to stop deleting files. It turned out he'd gone to lunch and not actually done the work yet. Lucky us.

    I left that place later with quite a bite more experience and despite the above I was grateful for having been given a shot. That was my first IT job.

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer