Tech

To have one floppy failure is unlucky. To have 20 implies evil magic or a very silly user

On Call Welcome back to On Call and a timely reminder that no matter how careful and clear you think your instructions are, a user will somehow always misunderstand.

Our tale, from a reader Regomised as “Keith”, takes us back to simpler times: the era of the 5.25-inch floppy disk and software updates mailed out to users rather than flung out at inconvenient times by an unforgiving internet.

Keith recalled a call from a customer complaining that the update of the company’s proprietary software had not worked.

Not a problem – “another disk was made and tested and mailed,” said Keith.

“And another, and another…”

After a few goes around the floppy roundabout, the customer was getting understandably a bit upset – the software had been paid for, but the updates didn’t work – and Keith was becoming more and more mystified. When the disk left the building it was fine. When the customer tried to use it, it was not.

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Was there some sort of giant magnet in the customer’s mailbox? Or was there eldritch magic at play?

Keen to help, the developers added a special character that would display in the border of the display to show for sure if the new software was actually running. But the customer reported no sign of it on the screen.

“We asked him to remove the floppy and read it to us but he said he couldn’t get it out,” said Keith. “Occasionally we had seen this when a label had loosened up and got stuck in the drive preventing pulling the disk out.”

For those unaware, floppy disks of the 5.25-inch variety normally had a sticky label either in a corner or over the entirety of the top of the disk. The label could be written on or used to proudly display the name of the application contained within. Sometimes the labels came unstuck requiring, at best, the careful application of a pair of tweezers or, at worst, a dispiriting trip to the local computing emporium.

Clearly, the user had a hardware problem. However, it would not turn out quite the problem Keith expected.

He pulled a replacement floppy drive from stores, packed it with two fresh copies of the software (just in case) and set off for the customer’s site.

An hour or two later he returned, older and wiser. He put the floppy drive back into the storeroom. There had been nothing wrong with the customer’s floppy drive. The mystery was solved when the customer’s PC case was open and Keith peered inside.

Almost 20 dusty floppy disks peered back.

“The user,” Keith told us, “had been placing the disks between the drive and the blanking plate below.” The latch would be closed to “activate” the drive and… well… you can guess the rest.

A swift bit of training was required regarding where diskettes should be put and where they most definitely shouldn’t.

We’ve had users shoving notes into PCs and disks where they do not belong. What exciting things rammed into beige cases have you had to deal with? Share all with an email to On Call. ®


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