Enter the Most Embarrassing Computer Moment Contest

by Derrick Story

So the Switch campaign has been fun, at least for Mac users. But what if we widened the concept to include all platforms, and tell humorous stories about our own crazy computer experiences? Yeah, let's do it! So here's the concept for this contest that begins immediately and closes on Wednesday evening, Sept. 18, at 5 pm PST.

We've all had embarrassing computer moments over the years. If you have a good personal computing anecdote that you can distill into 200 words or less, then you could win a full conference pass, including tutorials, to the upcoming Mac OS X Conference in Santa Clara, CA. We'll also award two runner-up day passes for honorable mention. The rules are simple:

  • You must be the subject of the anecdote. The embarrassing moment had to happen to you.

  • Your anecdote can be no longer than 200 words. So some writing skill is needed control the length.

  • The story can be Mac, PC, or Linux related, but the central theme must be embarrassing moments with computers.

  • Keep it clean. If the embarrassing moment involves things such as bodily functions, then find a way to make your point and not disgust the viewing audience. Entries deemed "over the top" by me will be pulled from the site and will be ineligible for prizes. If you want a pre-ruling on a particular story, then send it to: derrick@oreilly.com for a no-penalty evaluation.

  • Post your anecdote as a talkback at the end of this weblog. Please do not post questions or other non-entries. Send questions to me directly. The talkbacks should consist only of contest entries.

  • Only one entry per person.

  • The deadline for entries is Wednesday evening, Sept. 18, at 5 pm PST.

  • All decisions by the judges here at O'Reilly are final.

I'll post the winners on Friday, Sept. 20th. They will receive instructions via email on how to sign up for their free admission to the Mac OS X Conference.

The point of this contest is to have fun and to tell good stories. Please participate in the spirit of the event. And good luck!

-- Derrick Story

Post your 200-word or less computer-related embarrassing anecdote here.


2002-09-12 18:15:33
My Embarrassing Embarrassment Story
My most embarrassing computer-related moment will (possibly) occur a couple of weeks from now. I'll be sweating nervously as I drive southward, one eye on the road and the other on a set of directions. As I cruise down 880, keeping an eye out for the exit to the Dumbarton Bridge, I'll be trying to shake the panicky fear of being discovered a phony, an amateur who got lucky in a contest. Safely across the bridge and on to 101 South, I'll wonder whether the conference and the tutorials will be over my head or whether I'll become even further amazed by the wide scope of work being done on this flashy new OS. After finding a parking space at The Westin Santa Clara and pulling my Ti-laden bag over my shoulder I'll make my way inside to find the registration desk. "Why can't I go in?" I'll ask the gentleman asking to see my pass. "You haven't registered for this conference sir," he'll politely respond. "You don't understand," I'll say. "I won a contest for the most embarrassing computer-related anecdote." "That may be true," he'll say, shaking his head sadly. "But you only win the contest if I tell you that you forgot to register for the conference and then laugh at your misfortune. Thus horribly embarrassing you." And then he will. =-)
2002-09-12 20:24:43
Didn't happen to me, but this is hilarious
A friend of mine works for IT at the college I just graduated from. In April/May a faculty member from the Nursing department called about a complaint with their PC. They were very irate about their computer being racist and demanded the school do something about it. Unable to understand why they came to that conclusion, my friend asked the caller to explain why the computer was racist. Apparently on bootup the faculty member noticed the IDE drives were being listed. The first drive was listed as the master drive and a second drive was listed as the slave drive. This is really the most ridiculous computer related story I've heard of. Ever.
2002-09-13 01:45:46
Embarassing moment
My embarrassing moment happened in the early days of the PC, when 20Mb hard disks were a luxury and modems were slow and expensive.

A small but technically advanced retailer client had been having problems with the overnight datacomms transfer, and I (young and green) was sent to sort it out. After a really bad journey down narrow country roads to the shop, I finally arrived and set to work straight away.

The proprietor was on the phone and his staff were busy with paperwork, so I set to work on the first computer I saw - a veritable monster - an IBM 286 with 2Mb of memory!!

I turned the beast off and removed the case cover. No modem. Undeterred, I started removing cards to try and find the elusive modem - no luck. It wasn't long before I had reduced the PC to a bare box and a pile of cards. I was starting to panic a bit as the pesky modem still wasn't visible and there was only the hard disk left in the case.

It was only then that the proprietor finished his phone call, wandered through, and said, "Sorry to have kept you; now, the computer is through here" - as he pointed to the other machine in the back office".....

*anonymity preferred for obvious reasons*

2002-09-13 05:54:33
Once upon a time ...
...I was working late. As I was a junior member with a senior workload I had to use an old PC in one of the conference rooms. I hated it, the hardrive was small, the cpu too slow and the monitor was fuzzy. Just the kind of machine they put you at to do 3D modelling and rendering.
At about 11 pm, the monitor suddenly went black. "Hurray", I said, "The old piece of junk has gone to its maker, I can apply for a new one".
Merrily, I go to IT, find someone still there in the middle of the night and say: "Hi, my monitor has pumped it. I need to continue work, can I get a new one now?" IT guy follows me to my workstation, bends down and puts the plug back in that I had kicked out... Ouch!
2002-09-13 06:07:17
My attack on the corporate firewall...
While working for an Internet company in the late 90's I was worrying about the security at the end of my DSL line and ran several of the tools available from DSLReports.com, which would basically port scan your home firewall letting you know what ports were open. Unfortunately for me, I hadn't realized that the scans would come back to the address that you connected to the website from; in this case our division's firewall. Once I realized this I quickly hit cancel whistling quietly, looking around to see if there was any commotion. I went back to doing actual work, but half an hour later the security tech went into a tizzy about a port scan that had broken the firewall. Now it didn't break completely, just enough to stop logging. I quietly walked over to the security tech and explained what had happened. He actually took it rather well. It was not a good week, the network techs had taken down the network while installing a microwave relay. The Sr. SysAdmin had taken down the production database while plugging a new server into an overloaded electrical circuit. My 'attack' on the firewall was pretty minor in comparison.
2002-09-13 08:13:18
While working in a Computer Lab, while I was in college, I basically helped all the people type English papers and resumes and then printed the work for them.
There was this very attractive woman who I worked with in the College Radio Station and she popped in one day to type a paper for class. Of course I was very attentive to her however that particular day, I was having a major allergy attack. Sneezing, sniffing and constantly in the box of Kleenex.
When Mary was done typing her paper I, of course, came over to be very helpful and reformat the document for printing. I leaned over her and was sniffling, trying to stifle my allergy when my nose let go a big drop of nose juice that fell on the bare top of her thigh and ran down around her leg to the chair.

She just looked at me and said "Eeew!" I turned red and ran for another Kleenex to wipe her off.

Not a way to make a good impression... ;)

2002-09-13 09:21:56
Little Entrepreneur
As a Mac tech in Manhattan, I get to see a lot of Macs, some in very unusual and sometimes embarrassing situations. Perhaps the most memorable (and embarrassing for my client) was the time I was called out to look at a "malfunctioning CD-ROM drive" on a slot-loading iMac.

I arrived at my client's house and discovered that indeed, the CD-ROM drive was not working--it simply would not accept CD-ROM's anymore. Those little mini-CD's had become pretty popular and thought at first someone had stuck one in the slot-loading CD-ROM drive. With my client looking over my shoulder, I began dismantling the iMac and the CD-ROM drive. When I found what was actually causing the problem, my client started laughing to herself.

Inside the CD-ROM was about a dollar in change...a few dimes, a nickel, some pennies, etc. Turns our my client's six-year-old son had been "charging" his friends to play the games on the computer. I replaced the CD-ROM drive. She gave me the change as a tip.

2002-09-13 09:24:34
At the time of the incident, I didn't know much about Windows networking, and was still running Mac OS 9, since OS X wasn't out, with its support of Windows networking. Anyway, I needed to transfer a file from the Windows laptop of a friend to my PowerBook. The Windows laptop had an Ethernet port attached to an Internet-connected LAN. There wasn't another port available, but I thought I'd just use a cross-over cable, set up an FTP server on my PowerBook, and transfer the file. No go. I could not get the Windows laptop to see my PowerBook, no matter how I tweaked the Network Properties. I was on the phone with my girlfriend, and mentioned the difficulty I was having. She asked me, "Why don't you just have him email it to you?" I felt pretty dumb, and luckily remembered what his original network settings were, and sent it to myself. KISS, right? She teased me about that for a while, and i've tried to think about the easy way to get things done more often...

Daniel A. Shockley

2002-09-13 09:47:35
Wired UP!
When I was a technology coordinator for a local school district, we were very excited about wiring our building on "Net Day". This particular school was builit in the late 1800's with thick brick walls and tiny crawl spaces. As I moved my way through this small dusty space to pull some wires, I became wedged inbetween two floors with my feet and lower legs hanging out the trap door in the ceiling. First the struggle, then the kicking of legs, the sweating, and finally the call for help. Some laughing parents and students came and pushed me back up then guided me out and down the ladder! Dirty, sweaty, covered in cobwebs and looking rather dishoveled, I thanked them for their help and told them I dont understand what the engineers of this building were thinking. When one parent responded, "I wonder if my horse is still outsied?", is what they were probably thinking. A rookie tech guy in a new job with very old buildings!
Pretty embarrased!
2002-09-13 11:18:41
Really Need Computer Lessons
This anecdote happened during the early 80's. I had a client who said he wanted a computer for his kids to use. So I had an old mac plus sitting around and decided to sell it to him. He told me he knew how to set it up, so I went home. A few hours later the client called me and said "this computer you sold me doesn't work. I want my money back!" So I went to his house to see what the problem was. The problem was that he had the computer sitting on top of the mouse pad, the mouse turned upside down and he was trying to manipulate the mouse with the ball on the underside. He was so embarrassed he ended up giving me another $20 for my troubles.
2002-09-13 11:24:37
It just works...
I was so excited when I finally got my iBook 500 MHz with a combo drive. I mean, yeah, I could switch over to OS X! And yeah, I could start exploring the wonderful world of DVD porn. I was in heaven!

Then, of course, came the day I brought my laptop in to work, set it down on my desk, opened it up, turned it on, and had only a few seconds to notice I had left one of those not-so-family-oriented definitely-not-heterosexual educational-and-entertainment type disks in my drive.

But it was great! The DVD player started up automatically just like a charm...

2002-09-13 11:33:11
most embarassing computer moment
This happened to me as a sophomore at a college that shall remain unnamed. :-) It was the middle of finals week. I was geeking at the computer lab on a TVI-910, sending email and playing Tetris. Around me, maybe a dozen other people were writing papers on Mac Pluses. Some fellow geeks came by on their way to the dining hall. I got up to join them and promptly caught my foot on the power strip, killing all the Macs around me. I started apologizing profusely to horrified faces. My friends, sensing the blood bath coming, pulled me away and chided the others for not saving more often.
2002-09-13 13:18:14
First time computer user
I was a young writer in my first job on a network television sitcom. Most people were still using typewriters then but I had bought my first Mac. A 512K Enhanced. It had an additional floppy drive so I could have the system running on one drive and Word in the other. Amazing to think back on today. In reading the Word instructions, I thought I understood that there was an autosave feature, so I assumed what my writing partner and I were writing was being automatically saved. As I said, I was new to computers. Everything was coming to us fast and furious. We were writing nonstop and it was just flowing out of us. When we were almost done with a 40 page "brilliantly funny" script, the computer locked up. I thought, no problem, we'll just restart and the script will be saved. Yeah, right. IT WAS GONE! We tried everything and couldn't find a thing. It was one of the worst nights of my life. We had to try to remember jokes and story ideas and recreate a script due the next day. We were there until 5AM and turned in a meager version of what came so easily the day before. From that day on, I always hit command+s after every sentence or two. That'll never happen again.
2002-09-13 14:29:53
Surfing the wrong wave!
In 1997 I was working as a Technical Trainer for a National Computer Reseller, and one of the classes I taught was an 'Introduction to the Internet'. The class generally was held on the weekends, and as such was often filled with retired folks attempting to grasp this new thing called the World Wide Web.

Though I had taught this class often, this day was to be different. It started well enough, we covered a brief history of the Web, a very general introduction of how computers talk to each other (ppp, TCP/IP, etc.), and we were beginning to discuss search engines, when the most pleasant 80 something lady asked me "How do I know the name of a specific web site?", I answered that "often the sites are the exact name of what you are looking for, such as CompUSA is really www.compusa.com, and that Disney is www.disney.com (pre Go days). That sparked her interest - she then asked if we could visit www.bambi.com, her granddaughters favorite character, with out a pause I typed in http://www.bambi.com... now at this point you must remember that I am in the front of the training room, facing my students, and the projector is shooting over my left shoulder on the screen behind me... ten seconds after I hit enter, the class breaks into gasps, then muted laughter. At this point I can not figure out what I have said that's so unusual or funny, when I turn to see what is on the screen behind me, there on the screen is a very naked, artificially augmented, women beckoning us to enter her site. I quickly hit 'Home' on the menu bar, the screen changes to netscape.com, and the class laughs a little more, at which point I explain that the internet can often be like driving in a new city, we want to avoid visiting the seedy neighborhoods.

The rest of the class progressed well, and the students were getting the hang of surfing, until the last site of the day. I always used original examples in my classes, but I did like how the Ziff-Davis text ended their version of the same class visiting www.whitehouse.gov, as I was typing in the last site, the same lovely lady asks me another question regarding the .com suffix, I answered her while typing, and because I was talking and thinking about .com, I inadvertently typed www.whitehouse.COM. For those of you not familiar with the Clinton Administrations frustration with this site let me explain, there... in 256 colors... is Bill and Hillary splayed out across ten feet of screen, in black leather, a riding crop, and spiked heels.

To say the least I have never before or since taught a class that went so wrong, or so thoroughly embarrassed and mortified me. Thankfully, the class recognized these digressions as truly accidental, and laughed at a situation that could have seriously offended someone.

2002-09-13 16:35:07
My most embarrassing computer moment occurred when I discovered pop-unders. Last year I was teaching a computer class of about 30 men and women. The students had their own monitor and one in the middle between two students that mirrored the teacher’s monitor. While they were working on an assignment, I was surfing David Siegel’s Creating Killer Web Sites site. I clicked on one of the recommended links and found myself on a Danish pornography site with plenty of explicit photos, all of which were mirrored for my students to see. I frantically closed the window, only to discover four more pop-unders with equally explicit photos. My face was red and my students were highly amused at my embarrassment by the time I got them all closed.
2002-09-13 16:35:16
"I'm bored..."
The backdrop: The year was 1995 and I was working on a GIGANTIC Federal project as an employee for a federal contractor (BDM). There were multiple federal contractors working in BDM's facilities -- CSC, Boeing, etc. So there were a lot of people, some perhaps potential future employers.

My particular role was somewhat minimal, and being a bit high-strung and used to playing a larger role in other assignments, I found myself sometimes "bored." And I would tell one particular colleage that "I'm bored..." frequently. Sometimes electronically using Netware.

Well, one day right around lunch, from my Windows 3.11 DOS prompt, I sent what I thought was a private Netware broadcast message to just him: "From colive: I'm bored..." No problem, right? Wrong. Somehow, some way, I mistyped the command, and it was broadcast to every Windows screen in the building!! Probably 200 users, managers and all. Now THAT was embarrassing!

(The antidote? Fortunately it was during lunch, and few people were around, so I skipped lunch and went around the building and hit "OK" on every Windows popup that I could get too -- hundreds!)

2002-09-13 17:05:48
College indiscretion
When I was in college I had a PC.
2002-09-14 07:21:16
How Dumb!
The most embarrasing moment was when I needed a copy of the latest version of AOL, the store assistant approached me as usual and I asked for the item and he replied "who is the artist", to which I repeated my request and he then asked if it is a single or an album while he searched through the drawer of CD's. I then mentioned it is for my computer to which he replied "Oh computer games are behind you sir", pointing to a rack of PS2 games. How dumb.....??? It was embarrasing as there was other customers waiting to be served.
2002-09-14 11:25:51
Computer Club Foot Shooting
This would be in early 1985, just before I went off to University, at my home town computer club. No PCs yet, lots of Sinclairs and Acorns with the Commodore (this was Britain, after all).

I always entered the programming competition which was held each meeting because I was pretty good at it. We had about 45 minutes or so, and I usually finished early then went round the room looking over other people's shoulders.

This particular evening I was worried about someone interfering with my program. I should have just saved it to tape, but I knew a hack to stop the reset key sequence working on this machine (an Amstrad CPC) so I did that instead. Then, to stop folk casually copying my program, I put the computer into an infinite loop with a blank screen and wandered off to chat.

Time came to show our answers and I went with the judges to my computer. I pressed Escape to halt the infinite loop, but it didn't stop. The same hack which stopped the reset key sequence also disabled the escape key! I had to power down to get control back, which of course deleted the very program I'd been so keen to protect...

2002-09-14 12:52:13
Most embarrassing moment
A while back, when the net was new and I was a potential network administrator who was working at an ad agency, I got a message from my boss.

In essence, what it said was that February 29th was coming up soon, and that in order to clean the internet, everyone should keep all their net-connected computers up for the evening of the 29th so they could be cleaned automatically.

I was new, and eager to please. But also stupid.

I replied back to my boss, "Do you want me to stay late on the 29th?"

It wasn't so much the astonished reply I got from my boss, it was his forwarding it around to a few co-workers that made me cringe for a few weeks.

2002-09-14 13:22:40
Not exactly most embarrassing for me...
But this one's one that needs to be told, and the statute of limitations is probably up.

I was working as a tech admin at a mid-sized tech company. There was this one guy, call him Bob. Bob was one of those people who *swears* he knows a ton, but knows very little... and yet, can fool everyone around him that's he's just as smart as all get out. I caught onto it right away, but no one else did.

Suffice it to say, we didn't get along well. But I was trying to keep it professional as much as possible.

Then, one day, he came up to me and asked me to come to his cubicle. I complied, and he told me, I swear this is the truth: "Some sort of funny smell is coming out of my computer."

Now, I'd heard a lot doing that job, and I'd learned to keep an open mind when it comes to user complaints. So I did the proper thing: I asked what sort of a smell he thought he was smelling. Was it oily? Was it ozone-y? Was it reminiscent of something?

The answer came back no on all these parts. OK, so I got down under the desk and let my nose do the peering for a minute.

"Nope, no smell," I told Bob.

"No, it's there, just keep smelling," Bob insisted.

So I kept on smelling around. Finally after about 10 minutes, I got up and looked at Bob. "I really can't smell anything." So I started asking more questions, trying to identify the smell.

Bob really couldn't identify it, but started insisting that it was "toxic". He also said that it only came out every once in a while, it wasn't always there.

Then Bob broke in. "You know what? I think it's oil. I think the smell is oil. Where's the oil in this thing?"

By this point, I was about ready to burst out laughing, but I kept my cool; after all, I was trying to be professional about it.

Well, I had a bit of a cold... so I explained to Bob about my cold, and then asked someone from a neighboring cube if they could come over and sniff. Probably a mistake -- but I was getting a little desperate at this point to find out what was going on.

So the neighbor comes over, takes a sniff or two, and then, looking at Bob, says he really doesn't smell anything.

Bob starts to get angry at this point. "I smelled something, I know it!"

"OK, let me pop it open and see if there's anything in the box that could cause it."

I took the box over to a counter and opened it up. Nothing inside except what should be. I took a deep sniff; there was nothing there.

"Bob, I can't find anything."

By this point, Bob was boiling. He started to rave a bit about how I wasn't helping, I was making fun of him and how I was "ignoring this toxic stuff coming out of his computer."

I put the box back, and told him to give me a call whenever he smelled it and I'd come over right away, and we'd see if we could catch the smell.

For a couple of days we went on like this; me humoring him, him getting upset. Finally, one day I said, "Look, I can't smell anything. I don't know where it's coming from, but it's not coming from your computer."

"Maybe it's one of the drives." At that time, everyone in the office had an magneto-optical and a SyQuest drive at their desks.

"No, it's not one of the drives." I'd looked at them earlier.

"It's got to be one of the drives."

"Bob, this has gone on enough. I can't smell anything, there's nothing that could be putting something toxic into the air, you're not hearing any shorts which could cause ozone... In short, I can't find it. And I don't have another box to give you."

At that, he got really mad. He called in his boss, I called in mine, and we all set up an appointment for the following day to "smell his computer".

So at 10 AM one day, I opened up a computer, took a sniff inside, then allowed 3 other people to sniff the computer so that we could all agree that there was no smell. Three of us did; Bob was still angry.

"It's around here! I swear!" Bob raved at the three of us.

"Maybe it's the drives! Maybe it's one of the drives!" He frantically pointed to them.

"OK, I'll open them up."

I went and opened them up. Both of them were fine by the noses of three of us. Bob then picked up the old SyQuest drive that he had, and sniffed it. "That's it!"

"Great!" I took a sniff again... and smelled nothing.

"Um... what's it smell like?" I asked Bob, trying to see if I just had a deficent nose.

My boss interrupted and pulled me aside. "Just give him a new one."


"Just give him a new one. This is nuts, we've all got better things to do, give him a new one."


And that's when I learned my first lesson about customer service: cost efficency makes right. Bob wasn't right, there was no smell, and by no means did he need a newer drive. But he was going to waste our time until he got one... and so we needed to make the best of a stupid and ridiculous situation.

So whenever someone starts bringing up old tech war stories, I usually wait for a while. Some good stories come and go, but there's never one as good as mine...

"Well, this one time, I had a guy who said his computer smelled funny..."

2002-09-14 14:15:55
Maybe Too Simple GUI
I started out on a PC running DOS as the operating system. My keyboard had a template over it with reminders of what all the keys did, and the black-and-yellow text screen was festooned with taped-on notes describing DOS line commands (most of which were not in the phone-book sized manuals). Everything, even moving the insert cursor, was done from the keyboard. It was exasperating and obtuse, a truly cruel mistress.

So when someone suggested looking at the new Macintosh, I thought I'd give it a try. I sat down in front of the little beige box. My friend said "just move the mouse to make the cursor move on the screen." So I picked up the mouse and waved it around in the air. There was a long moment of silence, and he finally choked out "uuh...on the mousepad."

2002-09-14 14:56:16
Cake-making Photoshop gaffe
I had been attending a week-long class on web design and the use of Photoshop 3.0 in Palmer, Alaska. One evening, preparing a birthday party for a family friend, my cousin spilled a whole bottle of sprinkles on top of the cake.
"Quick!" I shouted, "Apple-Z!"
Boy, was my face #ff0000.
2002-09-15 04:31:40
I came over to the mac in 1996. having been on the "net" for a couple of years, first thing I did was to hook up with the internet and email all my friends about my Performa 5400 investment. The problem came in 5 seconds. How did I perform the usual "alt_gr-2" key sequence to get the "@" ?

It took me a couple of minutes to get the obvious. the mac keyboard has it's own button for @. Even today, I get a smile at the pc keyboard. it is just so stupid.

tom garshol
nextstep edition

2002-09-15 17:45:12
I was a young tech at a computer retail store. I was a hot shot. I could build a whole PC in about 15 minutes. One day I purchased a new motherboard and 486 40MHz processor. I took my time with it. I wrapped the cables and made sure all the screws were in place. I finished putting it together and hit the power button to start it up. POP! I put the processor in backwards. Fried the CPU and motherboard together. The CPU split in half when I tried to take it out. For a year after that, my boss would ask me if the processor was inserted correctly before I turned on any computer.
2002-09-15 18:58:52
how to saturate FTP
This came not long after beginning work at my first office job. After being spoilt for several years by ubiquitous high throughput internet connections at university I was rather frustrated by the firewall at work, filtering out such dangerous sites as the local newspaper, and not allowing any downloads.

Imagine my joy after discovering that FTP still worked! I quickly logged on to the nearest file mirror and spent a week saturating the connection with game demos and movie trailers. My boss then proceeded to inform me, "Congratulations, you have been the most active network user for the last 2 weeks, by a factor of about 25x", this is across an organisation of about 150 people.

I cut it down a bit after that. :-|

2002-09-16 09:44:11
Funny Story
I was working at my first job for a couple of months and I recieved an email from my friend with a file attachment. He told me that the file was hilarious and I needed to open it. When I opened it, it was a program that turned the volume on your computer all the way up and then a voice yelled "Hey everybody, I'm watching PORNO!" In the middle of a room filled with cubicles everyone heard it!
2002-09-17 17:48:42
alone but embarrassed
I just bought a new iMac with OS 9 and I see : «voice recognition» or something similar on my french os. So I start playing a bit with it and nothing happens. I try to speak more clearly and louder but nothing happens. Now I am feeling like some idiot trying to talk to his half-deaf computer. I'm looking over my shoulder to make sure no one is coming to take me away in a straight-jacket. Until I realise that it is not activated.
2002-09-17 17:55:17
Not mine, but funny
We were teaching some retired folks night classes on Windows 95 basics (lots of mouse initiation required). One fellow was apparently impressed by Windows Explorer, because he came back the next day upset that his computer would not start. Apparently he had deleted all files on his computer which he did not recognize as his, including the entire "System" folder...
2002-09-17 18:01:27
Punctuation, what's your function...
I was supporting end users who needed to use all sorts of software to connect to restricted educational chat rooms on IRC. There were two rooms they needed to connect to - one was something like authors_questions and the other was authors_answers. After about 30 minutes of going through every possible configuration detail for one frustrated teacher - ports, passwords, etc. - I asked him to spell exactly what he had typed. He happily repeated "A-U-T-H-O-R-S-U-N-D-E-R-S-C-O-R-E..."... I turned red and my co-workers laughed at me, so I guess that counts as embarrassing!
2002-09-17 20:27:58
Did you check _all_ he wires?
So I'm the new site admin at a place running AS400s on which I have about 3 hours of experience. My terminal won't turn on.

I call Central Help Desk. They instruct me to check the wires which I sort of do, they fiddle with this and that on their end and basically keep telling me to check the wires. I grow very impatient with them I mean after all I have been promoted to Site Admin!

After a few more attempts they escalate to the next level who basically tells me to check the wires! I am livid. Then I look down, the power cord is plugged into the power strip, but the power strip... well it's not plugged into anything.

Embarrassed but still physically angry I yell at the Help Desk person, "Never mind, I fixed it myself... thanks for NOTHING!" And hang up the phone. Two weeks later I got a call from someone at Central Help Desk apologizing for the incompetence...

2002-09-17 23:12:28
Darn power strips
As an entry level consultant, I was tasked with installing four SunScreens at a fortune 50, organization. My customer contact, Greg, was a
sterotypical geek, SysAdmin. His hair a mess, sleep deprived, clothes required washing - bad. Around his lived three pagers and two cell phones. He showed me the rack where the firewalls would be mounted and abruptly left, clutching a pager. Hundreds of servers hummed all around. The racks looked as if a 55 gallon
drum of spaghetti had exploded nearby. The cabling and spacing was horrendous. Each server inches from the wall. Through a web of cables I wrestled the firewalls into place. I squeezed, and pushed my way behind the rack. It was like a game of Twister with Deep Blue. As I knelt down to plug a cable in, my rumpus hit something. This was followed by a soft, "click" and a noticeable decline in server noise. "Oops". The doors burst open, and Greg was running and shouting,"What did you do?!". Greg's pager's and cell phones were emitting cries of pain.

Well, it turns out, I had turned off the "main" power strip for the 10 mail servers serving North America.


2002-09-18 04:46:36
Are you realy sure?
In the early 1980's, I was one of three sysadmins for our three PR1ME computers. We were having a strange problem and I decided to use the system console and the command LOOK to check contents of the virtual memory. I type the command and got the prompt "ARE YOU SURE?" Being over confident as so many geeks are, I typed YES and the system stayed up all of a further tenth of a second. Since the machine room was surrounded by offices with users using the machine including the other sysadmins, there was no chance of escape. Even now they still some twenty years later remind me of this when needed.
2002-09-18 06:27:46
Reading error messages is an art
Sometimes everything you do turns on an error message. Windows 2000 certainly sent me on a wild goose chase for several days.

When I installed Windows 2000, I decided to copy several thousand files to a ZIP disk. The system copied a few hundred files and then issued that annoying clang noise with an error message saying that the disk was out of space.

When I checked the Properties of the disk, as I expected, it showed less than 2% in use. But I couldn't get the system to copy over more files, so I figured the disk was corrupt and went out to buy some more.

When those disks failed the same way, I realized the problem was in Windows 2000. and I got the idea of copying a couple full directories instead of individual files. That worked fine.

So the error message really should have been "Attempt to copy too many files at once"--not "out of space."

Meanwhile, I wasted $7.00 on new ZIP disks. Microsoft can deduct it from the next license they sell me--if I ever invest more money in Microsoft.

2002-09-18 09:56:31
Sex Anyone?
I was a support technician for a firm that sold inventory management software to cattle feedlots.

Whenever a new group of cattle were received at the feedlot, a clerk had to enter the transaction into the inventory management database. There were several items that had to be entered for each transaction. One of these was the gender of the animals (for cattle, that means steers or heifers). The prompt on the screen simply said "Sex?" and the input area had room for one character, which should have been "s" for steers or "h" for heifers.

I got a call one day from this lady that had just started working for one of our feedlot customers. She told me she was entering a receiving transaction and had gotten down to the sex field, but the computer wouldn't let her get past the question.

I asked her what she had entered into the field and she answered, "y" for "yes"!

2002-09-18 14:42:35
Word Two Hundred Is Not a magic Perl variable
I was paged out that Sunday afternoon to the World’s Largest Data Warehouse—-a lovely beast, 128 UNIX nodes, two to a cabinet, loosely coupled--to replace a failed SIMM in the top node of cabinet 58.

I’d done three of these during preventive maintenance the day before. An easy job, really--power down the top node in the hot spare system, swap out the burned-in SIMMs, power it back up.

Then trot out to the production system—-rinse, lather, repeat. No sweat.

Since we’d just put fresh SIMMs in the top node of the hot spares--we burned in our parts for a week--I took the static mat and my zap strap to the hot spares, powered down the bottom node, and yanked the SIMM.

I strolled over to cabinet 58, squatted down, and racked it out, swapping the SIMM in good time—-after all, I’d just practiced it the day before.

As I was screwing in the last bolt, I glanced up at the top node and noticed none of the lights were on—-wait. The top node?

Just then, my pager went off--the start of a three-hour outage for the World’s Largest Data Warehouse.


2002-09-18 15:02:16
First Year CPSC
There’s a couple important things you learn in first-year computer science:
- don’t leave your assignments until the last second
- never give your password to another person

Several hours before my very first computer science assignment was due, I decided it was time to hit the junior lab and hack it out. Which was the exact same thing that everyone else in my class decided to do -- the line-up for the terminals was out into the hall.

I begged a friend in second-year if I could use his account in the “senior lab” to do the assignment. After a couple minutes of pleading, he decided to give in and I ran to the senior lab only to discover that nobody was in it and full of posh Sun workstations.

After 50 or so lines of the program was laid down in emacs, it was time to compile and fix any errors. Miraculously, gcc didn’t complain, so I crossed my fingers and typed “./a.out”. That’s when things went downhill.

The only way I knew how to stop my run-away program was to beg for the system administrators’ help -- I was logged into a computer that I wasn’t supposed to be using with an account that wasn’t mine. That’s when the two lessons at the top of this essay were entrenched in my head forever…

2002-09-18 16:34:57
but it was for research purposes, I swear!
I was the kinda-sorta admin for a small cluster of computers for use by graduate students. It was a very relaxed environment; about the only rule was the generally unspoken one of "be reasonable and considerate of others" and it usually worked.

Had a few people who snooped a bit into the browsing habits of others, using the drop-down and the browser history; they noticed somebody had been viewing porn. My attitude was that "well, it's not good, but you went looking for it, wasn't like they did it in front of you, so I'm not going to go on a witch hunt. So I set the machines to only keep the history for one day, and loudly discussed how to clear the history and browser cache in the presence of the people I suspected, on the assumption that they would take care of things. Everybody seemed satified, including the snoops who brought it up.

So a couple of weeks later, a female student comes to me and says that there were a *bunch* of porn sites open on a machine. This made me mad, that somebody had gone way over the line.

So I posted to the student list-serve what had happened, and mentioned that it was totally unacceptable, and that I didn't want to put filters on (not that I could, I was bluffing) but would if it kept up. Questionable content could be viewed for research purposes (it's a Sociology department), but people should be responsible.

This started a two-week on-list debate about freedom of speech; the snoops actually were the most ardent free-speech advocates.

Then finally we get a sheepish posting from a student who was visiting from Russia, and was new to the internet (and didn't check his email often). A friend back home had asked if there were "sites that objectified or degraded women," and so he went to research the question for her... the agressive pop-ups had so horrified him that he paniced and couldn't figure out how to close them... so it *was* for research purposes.

2002-09-18 17:03:00
Contest Closed!
Thanks everyone for your contributions. Results will be posted in another weblog no later than Friday morning. Cheers!
2002-09-20 16:07:19
Late, but prize or not I need to share. 8->
Several years ago I left the corporate world and began a technical support and consulting business. It's been great. Long hours (not all paid), loyal customs (most of whom pay) and a chaotic schedule.
On a paticularly nice Seattle spring day, my wife suggested we take a drive into the mountains to see the last of the winter snow. I needed break from work so I place my pager on stun, grapped my parka, hopped in the car and we drove up on over Snoqualmie Pass for lunch.
Snoqualmie Pass was amazing, 8 - 12 feet of snow on the road shoulders and lodges. The pavement was ruff as a ally up there but our old Acura Legend was doing a great job of smoothing it out at 70 mph. Suddenly it felt like I was about to loose a wheel! The vibration actually made my pelvic vibrate! I limped the car off at the next exit even though things smooth out again. After a careful inspect of Legend I could not find anything wrong. Then it hit me... I looked at the pager on my belt. Yep, another loyal customer needed my help. Those old Motorola pagers were amazing.
To this day my wife still enjoys telling this story to our friends.
2003-06-27 15:37:36
Reading error messages is an art
This is really old. But whatever. I'm quite sure the problem you experienced had something to do with the MFT. Too many small files ate up all the space in the MFT (historically referred to as a FAT).
2004-03-24 15:09:38
Embarrasing moment?
I saved one of those "fake Y2K" viruses on my desktop back in '95, and, as most of my friends now know, I have a bad memory. So i called the file "Y2K" and a couple of weeks later, I open up my computer, and sitting there is a file that says "Y2K" I start screaming and yelling! I slapped myself, and the computer. I quickly shut off my computer, and the moment I did, I realized it was my own file!
2004-03-24 15:09:41
Embarrasing moment?
I saved one of those "fake Y2K" viruses on my desktop back in '95, and, as most of my friends now know, I have a bad memory. So i called the file "Y2K" and a couple of weeks later, I open up my computer, and sitting there is a file that says "Y2K" I start screaming and yelling! I slapped myself, and the computer. I quickly shut off my computer, and the moment I did, I realized it was my own file!
2004-12-08 05:03:04
Contest Closed!
that is the most amazing thing ever can i suck ity dirty
2004-12-08 05:07:41
Funny Story
hi that is funny could u send the file to...
plz i would be very greatfull.
2006-01-31 07:02:16
I am a newbie at work and work for,..and with..people who make cool software/ultra geeks - total gadget kings - the works. So I went out to have lunch with a couple of these super geeks and well I was kind of impressed with the fact that this guy could get his mini-ipod to work with his car tape. I suddently remembered my joy the other night at having discovered that my Sony DVD player can actually play my home-burnt music CDs..you know these moments when you want to share your joy like a kid and you forget you are with people you work with who expect you to know :(-so unknowingly and quite unwittingly I blurted as we stepped out of the car- hey you know I made this discovery last night..and they good naturedly smiled and laughed..but now that I think of it- God I am soo embarassed at my dumbness :|. Not necessarily a PC embarassing moment but well :)