back to article User jams up PC. Literally. No, we don't know which flavour

Welcome again to On-Call, The Register's weekly trawl through readers' memories of dealing with dim users or dangerous bosses, often at ridiculous times. This week, a pair of sticky situations starting with one sent to us by “Tim”. Tim's tale comes from his first job when he was “fresh faced out of University and on the first …

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  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    It appears that the gap between the drive and the blanking plate in the front case looked just like the drive slot, she had been posting disks into the machine through this slot.”

    You will not believe how many times I have seen this one :)

    Still makes me chuckle remembering it

    1. Not That Andrew
      Windows

      You really have to wonder what sort of numpty mistakes a gap below the drive for the slot with the recess in the middle and a large lever over it? not to mention the flashing light above it?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Well, a lot of 'information ergonomics' is based around size and shape... e.g if this plug is same shape and size as that socket, there's a good chance they go together. Good design will use this to help the user. However, good design, or 'form engineering', was rare in the PC world until the last decade or so.

        I still remember the horror of PC cases in the nineties where vendors thought it good idea to adorn a humble stamped-steel case with a curvey beige plastic fascia, which only served to make it awkard to remove floppy disks and USB devices. Not to mention a 'turbo' button that didn't do anything, a camouflaged power button,a Reset button next to the disk eject button...

        1. Locky Silver badge

          You missed out

          Cases lined with razor baldes to stop the un-initiated tinkering. That must be why they were like that

          1. Stu Wilson

            Re: You missed out

            My brother, who owned/ran the towns local computer shop termed those as 'cases by Gilette®'

            Basically the cheapest, shodiest cases where the steel was cut/stamped but not rolled over so the edges were sharp as fsck, hence the moniker

            1. kain preacher Silver badge

              Re: You missed out

              Some of those cases were so sharp you did not even know you were cut. Seriously you could not make case sharper even if you tried. You could use the sides to cut up an elephant.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: You missed out

                "You could use the sides to cut up an elephant."

                I did once. To my chagrin I discovered that when you cut up 6 tons of dead elephant, you still have 6 tons of dead elephant to dispose of.

                1. David 132 Silver badge
                  Coat

                  Re: You missed out

                  To my chagrin I discovered that when you cut up 6 tons of dead elephant, you still have 6 tons of dead elephant to dispose of.

                  Didn't you have a large trunk you could put it all in?

                2. jake Silver badge

                  Re: You missed out

                  6 tons of dead elephant? Easy ... make stew!

                  1. David 132 Silver badge
                    Happy

                    Re: You missed out

                    @jake 6 tons of dead elephant? Easy ... make stew!

                    "Dumbo Gumbo"?

                    1. jake Silver badge

                      Re: You missed out

                      No. Stew. Recipe follows:

                      1 elephant

                      5 rabbits (optional)

                      cooking oil (I use lard)

                      enough flour to dredge the meat, seasoned if you like

                      6 hundredweight onions

                      4 hundredweight carrots

                      2 hundredweight celery

                      50 pounds salt

                      50 pounds pepper

                      1 bay leaf (if you leave it out, you'll miss it!)

                      4-5 barrels good red wine and enough water to cover

                      Cut the elephant into bite-sized pieces. Dredge in flour, and brown in the oil. While the elephant is browning, dice up the veg. Throw it all into the pot with the elephant. Add the salt & pepper and bay leaf, give it a good stir. When the onions are translucent, add the wine & water and bring to a simmer. It is done when the elephant is tender. If you are serving more than 2500 people, cut up and brown the rabbits with the elephant ... but be careful, most people don't like to find hares in their stew.

              2. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: You missed out

                Sharp cases were a menace - particularly the ones which would make you bleed simply by picking them up.

                Thankfully the local version of Trading Standards agreed they were a health hazard and started cracking down on them after a few complaints. It helped that one of their inspectors got bitten by a case too.

          2. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

            Re: You missed out

            > Cases lined with razor baldes to stop the un-initiated tinkering.

            Or the initiated, for that matter. All-metal Dells, especially the servers, were lethal in the early 90s. I recall the case of one server that ended up looking like a butcher shop with my own blood after an especially entertaining tussle...

            1. Kevin Fairhurst

              Re: You missed out

              But if you didn't make the requisite blood sacrifice when dismantling/reassembling, you knew for a fact that it wouldn't work when you tried powering it on...

            2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

              Re: You missed out

              My dear blood's been spread among a many Olivetti razor blades computers back in the mid 90s. It was such a relieve to switch to Dell - at least the desktops had been a pleasure to handle.

            3. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge

              "Cases lined with razor baldes to stop the un-initiated tinkering."

              That was a design feature. You needed a blood sacrifice to make the damn thing work.

          3. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: You missed out

            >Cases lined with razor baldes to stop the un-initiated tinkering. That must be why they were like that

            Hehe! A by-product of the cheap manufacturing process - in a single process you can bend a sheet of mild steel and punch holes through it simultaneously. Such parts could be de-burred, but that increases labour costs as a part has to be moved to a different machine. Whilst I have cut my fingers on PC cases (and extruded door latches that are sharply cut extrusions), I was philosophical about it - after all, I had bought the PC after weeks of searching the dead-tree magazines for the most amount of MHz/ MBs etc for my money - so the inexpensive construction (an honest compromise) was my choice as a buyer.

            By contrast, no user asked for an arbitrary curved plastic fascia that nothing more than an inconvenient, cack-handed attempt at product differentiation.

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Re: You missed out

              A side note on rants:

              A fella called Charlie Brooker cut his teeth by ranting about the frustrations of being a PC gamer back in the nineties. In time, he ranted about Shoreditch (Nathan Barley), and then the news and television. Now he has critical acclaim on both sides of the pond for his cautionary series Black Mirror.

              (I'd be interested if anyone knows the first time a television was referred to as a 'black mirror'. I know Jony Ive used the term in the nineties, referring to concepts explored for the Twentieth Anniversary Mac (just prior to Jobs' return). Jony Ive thought that CRTs when turned off were just unpleasant black mirrors, and had explored using doors and curtains to hide them. )

              1. Tom Paine Silver badge

                Re: You missed out

                Presumably pre-dates the Arcade Fire song of the same name

              2. Suburban Inmate
                Childcatcher

                Re: Charlie Brooker

                Here's a little gem I hunted down one bored afternoon. It caused Concerned Mothers™ to get in quite a flap.

                Dr Helmut Werstler's Cruelty Zoo

          4. VanguardG
            Facepalm

            Re: You missed out

            Yep...blood sacrifice cases. Any savings in cost making the cases was balanced by the cost of bandages to patch up anyone who had the temerity to open one.

            1. Spiz

              Re: You missed out

              Yeah I remember those cases. The worst cut I ever got was from pushing out one of the blanks for an ISA/VESA slot (before they put a handy cross in them for a screwdriver.

              Sliced my finger clean about 1cm down each side. Had to wash the motherboard...

              Never did that again.

              1. Rattus Rattus

                Re: You missed out

                "pushing out one of the blanks for an ISA/VESA slot"

                Ouch, the worst cut I ever got from a case was from the very same thing. I still have a good two centimetre scar on my thumb. On the plus side, that PC accepted my blood sacrifice and was the only one to never give me any trouble for its entire operational lifespan.

            2. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: You missed out

              I always assumed that the lethal metal internals were deliberately there to discourage upgrades. They wanted users to buy a more expensive jobby than they needed, with faster (more expensive ) CPU and various extras just so that they could get the bigger hdd or ram that they actually did need, rather than buying a more basic model and sticking the extras in themselves.

          5. Jonathan 27

            Re: You missed out

            They were just the cheapest junk you could find. My sister used to have this "incredibly cute" cat-shaped case that had internals there were seemingly designed to cut and maim the technician. I literally cut myself, badly enough that it bled, several times on the cursed thing.

            When we wanted me to upgrade the computer with a new motherboard (and all the trimmings) I made up some excuse about the case not supporting new motherboards and got her one of those Cheiftech/Antec "dragon" style cases that everyone and their mother had back int the day. And now my sister builds her own computers so she can buy all the sharp cases she likes... But she didn't and has a reasonable Lian-Li case.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Good design my a***

          Modern PCs with on button that is camouflaged into the trim so that a user new to the machine spends several minutes prodding bits of plastic until one of them moves. And only a few years ago a spanking new PC on our desks at work with a DVD tray button at just the right height to get knocked by a user's hand when moving the mouse, so that the tray would shoot out suddenly.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Good design my a***

            Some of them were so sharp that you could happily lacerate your entire hand without noticing until you came to percussively reattach the beige case components leaving a large, bloody handprint over the side of the machine. PC maintenance by an Orcish clan.

            1. Scott 53

              Re: Good design my a***

              I've still got a scar from a Compaq desktop in 1999. Went septic, that one.

          2. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Good design my a***

            >Modern PCs with on button that is camouflaged into the trim so that a user new to the machine spends several minutes prodding bits of plastic until one of them moves.

            Lenovo are guilty of that. And sometime they do something daft, like put a WiFi On/Off switch next to the Power button.

            Oh, a bloody stupid laptop of a friends - the WiFi wouldn't work, and I couldn't turn it on in Windows. It eventually turns out that the little blue light on the WiFi Fn Key actually denotes 'Off', and pressing Fn-Key turns it to Orange (On). FFS! What the hell is wrong with "Light = On, No Light = Off?"

            My bloody Dell Laptop has a row of unlit media / volume softkeys. The stupid thing? These softkeys light up ONLY when you are touching them. What the hell is that good for? And being softkeys, I can't identify themin the dark by touch. Grr.

            It is irritations like these that cause me to attempt to be an advocate for good design. And no, 'design' isn't merely what something looks like.

            1. TRT Silver badge

              Re: Good design my a***

              I had a Sony Vaio once that persistently failed to connect to WiFi. The power switch was a fancy sprung loaded slide to activate job that also released the clamshell lock. It was located right next to the WiFi /Airplane mode on/off slide switch which was about 2mm thick with a tactile surface. There was no Wi/Fi on/off light either, it was a green on-screen display.

              Every time the user opened the clamshell, they clicked Airplane mode to on. I would go through a whole load of shitty superstitious mumbo jumbo removing drivers and adding them back and taking them away again and putting them back again... and then miraculously it would work. I had usually rested my thumb on the switch and pushed it back on by accident.

              It took about 6 months and 6 visits from the professor in question before I eventually downloaded the manual and decided to read it page by page to see what was going on. Then, THEN, I noticed the little line with a number on the end pointed at the edge of the Vaio, and THEN I decided to look up what Number 7 was, and saw it was "Airplane Mode".

              1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

                Re: Good design my a***

                Wifi on/off buttons have to be the most pointless bloody thing to adorn modern laptops. Early Sony computers used to have a sliding switch. It was black, on a black background, and even if you knew it was there, it was hard to find. And easy to accidently slide to "off". Other laptops have a big button to do it. Why?? I'll rephrase that. No I won't. Why?? The laptop is useless without wifi! I can see there would be the odd use-case for turning off wifi, but to make it a key that's prominent, or even not prominent but easily accidentally pressed, such as "FN-2" or something, is just crass. It causes so much frustration among users who quite frankly don't care.

                1. Down not across

                  Re: Good design my a***

                  Why?? I'll rephrase that. No I won't. Why?? The laptop is useless without wifi!

                  Ever tried to use a corporate laptop that tries to contact DC and bunch of other services, before you have had chance to login to VPN to make them available?

                  Being able to turn wifi off means windows (no, linux is often not an option on corporate machines) will complete login/resume from sleep in few seconds instead of spending several minutes trying to connect somewhere being utterly unresponsive until it finally gives up.

                  Just because you have no need for it doesn't mean others might not find it very useful or even necessary.

                  1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                    Re: Good design my a***

                    Or simply away from the WiFi with low battery and no immediate need to use the Interwebs.

                2. G7mzh

                  Re: Good design my a***

                  The laptop is useless without wifi! I can see there would be the odd use-case for turning off wifi, but to make it a key that's prominent, or even not prominent but easily accidentally pressed

                  I raely use my laptop for the internet (the one on my desk does that), but frequently use it for the church Powerpoint and recording meetings. In neither of those do I want it connected - or trying to connect - to the outside world.

                  It's an HP, and the wifi switch is a dedicated button, with associated pilot light (light on = wifi on) well away from anything else.

            2. Richard Barnes

              Re: Good design my a***

              Something similar on my Asus laptop, where the on/off button is exactly the same size and shape as the Delete button right next to it. Guess how many times I have turned off my laptop by accident.

              1. Gene Cash Silver badge

                Re: Good design my a***

                on/off button is exactly the same size and shape as the Delete button right next to it

                I've had more than one of those. I usually pop off the power button, so either I use the normal Linux shutdown command, or if things are completely TITSUP I used a pen or car key to press what's left of the button.

              2. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Good design my a***

                I've resorted to the trusty Brother labeller in a number of cases of ambiguous buttons.

                Ugly, but usually does the trick

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Good design my a***

              Oh, a bloody stupid laptop of a friends - the WiFi wouldn't work, and I couldn't turn it on in Windows. It eventually turns out that the little blue light on the WiFi Fn Key actually denotes 'Off', and pressing Fn-Key turns it to Orange (On)

              And if you are dealing with an HP laptop with wireless....

              Blue light = on, orange light = off

              1. Updraft102 Silver badge

                Re: Good design my a***

                I was thinking the same thing. I have an HP laptop belonging to a family member here that I was supposed to fix. I did fix it, but that nutty wireless LED threw me at first too.

            4. Someone Else Silver badge

              @Dave 126 -- Re: Good design my a***

              The ultimate triumph of form over function. Marketing: 1, Rest of the World: 0.

          3. kain preacher Silver badge

            Re: Good design my a***

            That's what happens when you let a sadist design computer cases.

          4. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

            Re: Good design my a***

            Or computers from the early 2010s that had power buttons on the top. So if you had the thing on a desk and had to lean over it, or you put something on it, you'd inadvertently shut it down.

            1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

              Re: Good design my a***

              @anthonyhegedus - Or the cat turns it on or off depending on whether you are using it.

        3. Siberian Hamster

          Ah those wonderful Turbo buttons with a 2 digit 7 segment display that was set just with a jumper board. We had a problem at my first place where those displays started showing FU when the turbo button was depressed..., they never did work out who was doing it...

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            A Turbo Button... when pressed, it uses the movement of air from the PC's fan to increase the amount of flammable liquid that is injected inside the machine. (Or at least I've used computers that I have wanted to go up in flames)

            1. NBCanuck

              Turbo Button

              For a brief while the Turbo button was my friend. When I upgraded from a 386 to a 486 processor and tried to play Wing Commander the performance with the larger ships was much smoother than with the 386, but it was too sensitive (for me) when flying the little scout ships. Turning Turbo off slowed things down and made it playable.

              1. Ben Bonsall

                Re: Turbo Button

                The really hard bits in Prince of Persia became so much easier with turbo mode off...

              2. The Brave Sir Robin

                Re: Turbo Button

                Turbo buttons should've been called snail buttons. When 'on' the PC ran at its normal speed. When 'off' it was slowed down so older badly written games would play properly.

                1. Down not across

                  Re: Turbo Button

                  Turbo buttons should've been called snail buttons.

                  That is actually a valid point. In non-turbo mode the CPU would be clocked at 4.77 MHz and in turbo mode it would be usually around 8-10MHz. Wasn't just for gamed though. IIRC some ISA cards didn't always play nice with higher clock speeds, which was probably more due to bad implementation by some motherboards.

                2. Chloe Cresswell

                  Re: Turbo Button

                  Technically, it's the other way around:

                  When Turbo is "on" (switch on) the machine runs at slow speed, when it's off the machine runs at it's normal speed.

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