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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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

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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?

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Anonymous Coward

I wonder how many of these tales are true.... 5"1/4 readers were quite large, had a lever to lock the disk and allow access to it, and had a recessed area to grasp the disk for removal. Unlike some CD players, they had not a thin slot and an eject button.

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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...

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Numpty?

@not that andrew

"what sort of numpty"

Fair play here. I had the same story from a friend, but the user was a senior officer at the Met! But remember how the world was back then. We're probably talking early 1980s. Most of these users had never seen a PC before, and probably got damn all training. They read the instruction that said "Put the disk into the slot on the front of the computer". Okay, there's a long thin slot about the width of the disk and another odd thing with a funny bit of plastic in front of it that's blocking the hole. Looks a bit too wide anyway. I know which slot a lot of people would quite reasonably choose.

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You missed out

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

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Anonymous Coward

"[...] the slot with the recess in the middle and a large lever over it [...]"

The slim 5.25 drives were not so obvious. They had a flat fascia and the eject button didn't protrude until a disk was loaded. See picture below for example.

http://www.recycledgoods.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/1000x/af097278c5db4767b0fe9bb92fe21690/c/a/canon-1.2-mb-5.25-slim-13-height-internal-floppy-drive-md5501a-21.10.jpg

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Not quite the same... But I had a Mac where the floppy disk drive broke. I took it out hoping to get a new one, but that was at a time when floppy disks were on their way out, so I never got a new drive and forgot all about it.

About a year later I was handed a floppy disk that I needed to read. Put it where the floppy disk used to be. Plop! It was gone... Opened the Mac, took the floppy disk out, found someone who could read it and got the contents over the network.

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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

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Never underestimate the foolishness of the average user. Really, don't.

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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...

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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.

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TRT
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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. )

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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".

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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)

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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.

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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...

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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.

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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

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Re: Good design my a***

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

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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.

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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.

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Re: Turbo Button

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

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Re: You missed out

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

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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.

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

Oddly, after over 20 years in this game, I've only seen it once. And that was a nursery (kindergarten for you colonials) where a 3 or 4 year old had pushed a CD in the gap. And that was much more understandable since, for practical reasons the PCs were installed with tray-less, slot-type optical drives.

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"A Turbo Button... increase the amount of flammable liquid that is injected inside the machine."

The BOFH column is over there --->

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Yup, me too.

Most surprising person to report it was the lead coder on a game.

F'ing really?? You work as a software developer and you cannot work out how a floppy drive works?

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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.

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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.

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Headmaster

"And that was a nursery (kindergarten for you colonials) where a 3 or 4 year old... "

Minor American English quibble: if the children were three or four year-olds, then over here it's a "nursery school". Kindergarten is (generally) for five year-olds, the class just before first grade.

Good story though.

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

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

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Coat

We had a problem at my first place where those displays started showing FU

And HA? (FUll and HAlf speed, obviously)

when the turbo button was depressed..

That's because it was a very ugly button.

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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.

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Anonymous Coward

"Never underestimate the foolishness of the average user. Really, don't."

true - one of them even worked out how the "downvote" thing works ..... {cue more people trying that out}

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Never underestimate the foolishness of the average user

Or their chidren. Once, while working at Chinaman Joe's PC Emporium*, we had a computer come back with a 3.5" drive that would not accept disks. We removed the drive from the PC and, just for shits and grins, removed the cover of the drive whereupon we found a grey plastic gear sitting right in the middle of the drive. We were wrong in assuming the gear was a part of the mechanicals that had managed to escape the bonds that held it in place for, as we marveled at the sight, the Chinese guy that assemvbled the computers came by, looked and exclaimed "Rego! My kid pray with those"! We turned the gear over and, sure enough, there was the Lego logo. Put everything back together, tested the drive and charged the customer for allowing his kid to get to close to the computer.

*Names changed to protect the Guilty.

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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.

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Re: Good design my a***

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

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"Minor American English quibble: if the children were three or four year-olds, then over here it's a "nursery school". Kindergarten is (generally) for five year-olds, the class just before first grade."

Thanks. AFAIK, nursery school here in the UK is until they start "proper" school, which may be as young as 4 in a reception class, normally 5. That can vary from town to town, but there's nothing in between.

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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.

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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.

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Re: Never underestimate the foolishness of the average user

Transforming L sounds into R sounds is typically Japanese. Chinese (at least in the case of my boss at the PC Emporium!) tends to go the other way, with a R sound becoming an L sound.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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