The Case Of The First Problem Revisited

“Have you got any idea on why this stupid postscript driver for the digital printer/copier keeps spitting out the output below?”

Postscript language dump

‘Yes, the printer does not have the postscript option fitted, and is dumping out the raw postscript language code.’

It’s a variant of the “Case Of The First Problem”, where we had a customer order a printer without the postscript card* fitted.

* – I say card, but most likely these days, the postscript option is installed, but requires an expensive visit from the copier tech to enable the option.

“I have a user on site that has over 20gig in a CSC folder in windows”

In a Windows 7 Administration course today, I was telling this story, which my fellow students thought was hilarious.  Back in early 2007, this email forwarded along to me for attention:

RE: Fw: Attn: Issues with the New Windows XP image


I have a user on site that has over 20gig in a CSC folder in windows the folder appears to be hidden and has weird permissions on it most machines this folder is small but this machine it has gone out of control, What is that folder for? c:\windows\CSC

If I can hear from someone ASAP that would be great


The customer leapt to the conclusion that because a company called “CSC” was doing the desktop deployment for him, we’d have nothing better to do then drop 20 gigabytes worth of files onto a random PC.

My reply, remembering that I was dealing with an customer who we were deploying 1600 copies of Windows XP to, was:


It’s not us! 🙂

Google is your friend here:

What are all these files in my C:\WINDOWS\CSC directory?
This is where Windows keeps the files that you have marked for being available offline. (CSC was the working name for the feature now called Offline Files. It stands for Client-Side Caching.)

I still read The Old New Thing daily, and also still tell people that Google is their friend.

“I recommend we build a tracking database”


I am always reminded of this Dilbert cartoon whenever a customer has a large complex problem at work, and some genius suggests “We’ll build a database”.  Or frequently, we’ll implement a replacement database because the old database product is 3 versions behind.

It’s 3 versions behind because we’ve not paid for product maintenance.

Because we’re 3 versions behind, the current database has gotten a bad reputation amongst the customers, and our internal users.

The fix?  We’ll purchase a new database system from a different vendor.  This ensures that much project work will occur, contractors will be able to charge massive daily charge rates and we’ll be all happy as pigs in poo because we’re playing with something new.

(I found this 1996 Dilbert cartoon via the excellent Dilbert Strip Finder website).

Bookmark and Share

“What is this ‘Furphy’ you refer to?

Furphy (Horse Tank Train) Or when I stopped using Australian slang in international telephone calls.

May 22, 2003.

When the CA Unicenter Remote Product started up on Windows 98SE, it would do a network broadcast, looking for the computer name “PRESET.INI”.  I mean, how dumb was that???  Looking for a INI file as a computer name.

So after speaking to the various support levels within Computer Associates, I was eventually allowed to speak directly to the German software developer. The German side of the conversation was essentially this for 5 minutes:

“Yadda yadda yadda Microsoft issue yadda yadda”

I started to get a bit fed up with that, so I replied
‘I think it’s a bit of a furphy myself.’

“What is this ‘Furphy’ you refer to?”

It was then I realised that not everyone shared the same set of colloquialisms that I do.
Particularly German Software Developers.

(A ‘Furphy’, was not only was a water cart used in World War I, but is also Australian slang for a rumour, or an erroneous or improbable story.)

Bookmark and Share

“It is better to have and not need, than need and not have.”

As I said to the boss the other day when he asked if we wanted a final backup of the Windows 2000 Server we were decommissioning.  Now where I first heard this saying, is lost in the mists of time.  If pressed, I’d say some sort of security briefing.

Regardless, it expresses what I think about backups very well.  And I was reminded of it the other day.  I was copying some files from one backup drive to another, and McAfee chirped in with
McAfee - fake av

“Potentially Unwanted Program??” What the ???

Windows Enabler was a utility I used some years ago, which I’d forgotten about.  I tend to hoard these utilities in case I ever need them again.  I was greatly annoyed that McAfee decided to delete this utility for the reason “Potentially Unwanted Program”.

I ended up recovering the deleted files from CD backup.

Bookmark and Share

Ecclesiastes 1:9

as I said to a co-worker, applies.

The problem?

We were running out of network drive space.  The network drive, where our 2000 customers store their roaming profiles, had 80MB left.  Roaming profiles, very simply put, are copies of your “My Documents” and “Desktop”, which “roam” to every computer you logon to.  To do this, they need to be stored on the network.

Co-worker: “I think we have a lot of unused user accounts taking up space”
Me: ‘Wouldn’t think so.  More like porn and music files.”

Some time later, “There was one guy with 7GB of movies on his desktop.”

There is nothing new under the sun.

Back in the 1990’s a particular Power & Water company would run out of home drive space.

The workers knew they were doing the wrong thing.  So did their management.  Management were afraid of the workers going out on strike so they wouldn’t take action.

The IT Admins took the easy way out to solve the problem, just delete the porn!

It’s not as if the workers would actually complain.

Bookmark and Share

“What do you do for a living?”

“Not IT, no sir-ee.  I shuffle papers for a living.  See the shine in the seat of my trousers?  Don’t leave my chair all day”

Yes, I do have a crystal ball on my desk.  Yes, it is broken.That’s the story most people get when I’m asked.

Only IT Workers and Doctors get the truth when they ask.

If you’re a doctor, and I’ve seen a few of them recently, you’ll get the truth.  Doctors understand.

Doctors understand that, as soon as you tell people that you work as a doctor, the “oh I’ve got this strange lump, could it be cancerous?” question soon follows.  Readers are invited to suggest what the computer version of it is.  The question I most often get is “My computer is slow, why?”.  Sometimes followed by, “What sort of computer should I buy?

Doctors get told: I assist IT support staff with problems they cannot solve, and customers when they complain loudly enough to management about their issues.

The IT Worker version goes something like this:
I work in SOE development, and also provide 3rd level support for numpty users, and technicians, who ask questions like “Dude, you people didn’t test the printer properly! It doesn’t print colour”.  I also provide free support for numpty vendors, who’s idea of saving money is to outsource driver creation to “Gumpta of the Calcutta Black Hole”.  Don’t laugh, it happens.

Bookmark and Share

Backup mistakes I’ve made.

Confessions can be good.  Here are mine around backup mistakes I’ve made.

  1. Copy “new” backup disk over the “old” backup disk.
    The “new” disk was blank!
    I (almost) “lost” 5 years of irreplaceable photos.  Fortunately I found an “old old” backup.
    What it cost me: 100+ photos / 4 hours.
  2. Production server: Disk to Disk backup.
    Setup a nightly backup of SOELAB1 server, so it copies all the changes to SOELAB1BUP.
    Some time later, try and recover a file from SOELAB1BUP.  It’s not there.
    Ask co-worker:
    ”Oh, we were running out of backup space so we don’t backup ISO files anymore.”
    What it cost me: Operating system install disk needed for fault investigation.
  3. CTOS FAQ website.
    GeoCities was shutting down on 26th October 2009.  I thought it was the 31st October.
    What it cost me: complete website and Google Pagerank of 1 for CTOS.  3 files gone forever & 15 hours recovery time (had a 10 year backup).
  4. Forget to backup the backup file.
    wingdings-tick-box Make a backup of the Wisefaq web server.
    wingdings-cross-box Download it, and store the backup locally.
    Yes, I forgot to download the backup.  I did several WordPress upgrades before I realised.
    What it cost me: nothing (phew!).  Potential lost, everything.

If you can learn something from my mistakes, more power to you.

Bookmark and Share

Tape backup, reliable? Never ever!

The Dilbert Disaster Recovery Plan  Or how tape backups have failed my customers over the years, and wasted our collective time, because of customer stupidity.

  1. Melted tapes
    The school which stored their entire backup tape set next to their server.
    One office fire later, “No, we can’t restore your melted tapes.”
  2. Old tapes
    The schools which refused to buy replacement tapes, because they were too expensive.
    And wondered why, after a server hard disk failure, we couldn’t restore data off their 4 year old tapes.
  3. Dirty tape drives
    The office locations which never ever cleaned their tape drives.
    The tape drives would gum up, and make the tapes un-readable.
  4. “Not my job”
    It wasn’t a difficult task to change the backup tapes every day, but it was always “someone else” responsible for it.
    Net result: continual backup failure, and lost data.
  5. Slowing down with age.
    Tape drives, being mechanical devices, slow down with age.  So you get Tape Drive A (the old drive) creating tapes that Tape Drive B (the new drive) couldn’t read.

Sony DAT Tape drive and Unisys QIC Tape DriveSo what did we do to encourage the customers to be concerned about their backups?

Melted tapes:
Showed them what a fire-damaged tape looked like.  “Oh!” was the most common comment.

Old tapes:
Try and grab a copy of the “critical” data when we could, via over-the-network backups.

Dirty tape drives:
Cleaned the drive when we visited once a year.  Little else we could do.

“Not my job”:
Nothing we could do about that.  A hardware failure would often change the attitude at the customer site.

Slowing down with age:
We’d only see the effect of this after a hard disk crash, where we try and read the tape, and fail.
Often involved paying a service technician *lots* of money to adjust a drive for us, so it could read the data.

Bookmark and Share

Leaving Geocities: “This website has won No Awards at all”


CTOS_Logo With Geocities shutting down, I had to move the CTOS Faq site.

CTOS, my friends, was an kick-ass operating system which was released in 1979, and was supported for 20 years.

It was a big thing in the business community.  But Unisys stopped supporting CTOS at the end of 1999.  I documented those reasons why Unisys did, in: Frank Brandenberg, the man who killed the CTOS operating system.

Now transferring off Geocities was fairly easy, as I still had my backups from ten years ago.  I lost very little data.  And for the missing data, there is the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

But there lies the problem.  The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine modify the html links in their pages to redirect to their archive copies (ie.… ).  Which means extra work in stripping those links out, carefully.

It’s been done, and you are invited to view a website design from 1999, the CTOS FAQ.

Bookmark and Share