back to article My PC makes ‘negative energy waves’, said user, then demanded fix

Everybody’s working for the weekend, the song goes, but here at On-Call, The Register works to bring you a weekly story of a fellow reader’s tech support trauma. This week, meet “Roger” who once took a call from a user “well known as being very sensitive to radio waves and who therefore did things like using a headset so that …


  1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    So glad I don't have such users...

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      So glad I'm not related to anyone like that as well.

    2. boltar Silver badge

      "So glad I don't have such users..."

      The thing these neurotic hypochondriacs who claim to "suffer" from this sort of EM sensitivity need the most is a psychiatrist, not a sys admin :)

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge


        Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?


        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: qotw

          I will, if you make sure you are loaded up with HE and not paint.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

            1. psychonaut

              Re: qotw

              yup, its been this way for years....

              remember the isoplat?

              i have to confess i did by cyrus oxgen free single strand copper for my mission's though. it was only a few meters. it made all the difference ;)

              1. Daveytay

                Re: qotw

                OFC that I got wholesale and then crawled under my house to pull for my speakers was the best money I ever spent on my stereo. My wife was happy she couldn't see the wires carefully running around the fireplace skirting any more. I went from 40 year old crap cables with joins to a single run to each speaker, and it was a noticeable improvement.

            2. John Styles

              Re: qotw

              Poe's Law applies to this one, I am still not sure myself if it is a parody or not


            3. AdamWill

              Re: qotw

              As an approximate rule of thumb, I've found that every $100 spent on woo opens up the sound stage by 2.37%...

              (I've always been a fan of the geniuses who did a double-blind trial of extremely expensive speaker cables versus...clothes hangers. Guess how much difference there was.)

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: qotw

                "extremely expensive speaker cables versus...clothes hangers"

                My "extremely expensive speaker cable" was 8mm^2 electrical cable.

                The coathangers melted.

                Yes, I was listening to Motorhead.

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: qotw

                  That's Motörhead, you heathen.

                  I wonder if the Brilliant Pebbles guy also sells röck döts ...

                  But wait! There's more!

            4. Lilolefrostback

              Re: qotw

              They may not be entirely out to sea. Years ago ('80s) the head of IT decided that all the documentation we produced should be subjected to proper version control (not the code, just the documentation). To that end, we had to provide him with the source files for our documentation (on 5.25" floppies), which were then secured in a filing cabinet. Overall, not a bad concept, if the implementation was a bit primitive. Six months later, we needed to update the documentation for a project, so we asked for the relevant files. No response for a week, so we asked again. Eventually, we learned that the cabinet was open at the bottom and had been sitting directly over the incoming mains to the plant; all disks were blank. We had to hire typists to re-create the files from hard copies of the documents.

              Now, that was the mains for a manufacturing plant, so the field was probably stronger than at home, but it is possible that the magnetic field of the mains could have a measurable effect. More likely that these folks are bat crap crazy.

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: qotw

                "Eventually, we learned that the cabinet was open at the bottom and had been sitting directly over the incoming mains to the plant; all disks were blank. "

                Interesting BOFH excuse, but floppies were notorious for losing their contents without a mains cable in sight. Some brands (noted for their marketing claims of never forgetting) were particularly bad for bit rot.

            5. swm

              Re: qotw

              I once thought, as a joke, to market "digital speaker cable" to go with digital sound systems. Then I noticed someone was selling it in a catalog. Oh well - I missed a fortune there.

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: qotw

                I used to work for a well-known American electronics high street retailer, now defunct in the UK, that started life making leather goods. You know the one?

                Anyway, we had a regular who used to come in to buy the anti-static spray for record players (snake oil stuff - an atomiser filled with distilled water made up with about 5% IPA). He started asking for stronger stuff because "the US government had turned up the power when they realised they couldn't read him". Turns out he used the spray like a cologne. His baseball cap was lined with tin foil too, I noticed.

                1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                  Re: qotw

                  "anti-static spray for record players (snake oil stuff - an atomiser filled with distilled water made up with about 5% IPA)"

                  Snake oil is an understatement. Records work like ice skates - the stylus pressure momentarily liquifies the vinyl as it passes over it and any moisture on the record prevents this happening, resulting in the surface _ripping_ when inspecting under a microscope.

                  The only reliable way of "antistatic"ing was to use a negative air ioniser and a good old carbon brush (none of which which particularly well, but any form of charge on the record would pull dust from the air into the groves and then it'd get pressed into the liquified vinyl mentioned above). If you want to clean your records properly (a bloody good idea before first play), then getting hold of a Keith Monks Record cleaning machine was a good move (NOT snake oil)

                  Records get a huge charge just from being taken out of their sleeve. About the only way to keep it under control apart from the ioniser was to control humidity around 75-80%, but then you run into mould problems. :(

            6. Alan Edwards

              Re: qotw

              One of the best speaker cables I had was solid core twin-and-earth building power cable, cost me nothing.

              I asked a relative who was working on a building site putting up warehouses if there was any chance of some scrap ends they were throwing out, they gave me about half a drum's worth.

              I've still got the heavy granite isolation platform I adapted from a piece being chucked out by a stone masons. Stuck some rubber feet on the unpolished side, job done :)

            7. Wilseus

              Re: qotw

              "These people readily pay £2k per metre for speaker cable etc."

              What exactly do you mean by "these people?"

              I'm a regular on a number of Hifi forums and I certainly wouldn't pay that even if I could afford it. I have a relatively expensive system linked together with pretty much the cheapest cables I could find. My speaker cable was I think about 50p a metre. There probably is merit in things like keeping cables away from each other as much as possible, and it probably wouldn't hurt to give a decent system its own mains spur, but it's not something I would lose too much sleep over.

              You do get a small number of people on there who have more money than sense and come out with silly nonsense, but they're in the minority.

      2. ShadowDragon8685

        Almost definitely, but sometimes getting things functional is better than making them perfect.

        Consider the case of the high-powered bigshot lawyer. Super-good at what she did, super productive, etc, but she had a monomaniacal focus on whether or not she had left her hairdryer plugged in, whether it was on, going to short out, cause an electrical fault, start a fire, etc.

        Got to the point where it was about wrecking her life, she'd be running back from the office to home every few hours to ensure she hadn't left it was. Irrational, but it had its tow-hook stuck in her brain, she was on the verge of being fired, and finally went to see a psychiatrist.

        She didn't get some aged and grey veteran of the field with a bajillion years of experience who could, through several years of hard work, maybe get her to the point that she could ignore it by talking to her. She didn't get a middle-aged veteran of the field armed with an entire pharmacopeia's worth of various drugs that MIGHT or might not make her better and might not but MIGHT carry ruinous side-effects of their own. She got the New Guy.

        Now, the New Guy was not an FNG as known to those of us who use computers a lot. He certainly considered all of the traditional options. But, he was so surprised by her monomanical fixation upon one thing - it was never "did I leave the oven on," or "did I let the cat out," or "is the water running." It was always, only, "did I leave the hair dryer plugged in."

        So surprised was he by this that he simply asked, "why didn't you just take the hair dryer to work with you?"

        All of a sudden, boom. Functional fix. The bigshot high-powered attorney was still fully in the grips of OCD monomanical fixation upon whether or not her hair dryer was plugged in at home... But she only owned the one. When she had that thought in the car, her hair dryer was on the seat next to her, so obviously it could not be plugged in at home. At the office? Just pull open the desk bottom drawer; a hair dryer present and accounted for here obviously cannot be plugged in elsewhere.

        So, whilst medical opinions on whether or not the "simple solution" was healthy are heavily divided, where the rubber meets the ride, the high-powered bigshot lawyer has her life back - just carrying about 2Kg worth of extraneous hair dryer wherever she goes. And while the woman who "senses negative waves" may indeed need a psychiatrist, if a sysadmin telling her how to turn off the wifi lets her stay calm and carry on, it may well be the simplest solution.

        1. jake Silver badge

          2Kg hairdryer?

          My Wife's tips the scales at about a quarter of that. Including the relatively[0] gigantic 35g GFCI plug.

          [0] Compared to a standard Yank 2-prong plug ...

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          "just carrying about 2Kg worth of extraneous hair dryer wherever she goes."

          And, of course, you never know when you're going to need a hair-dryer.

          1. ShadowDragon8685

            Yeah, well, it's unlikely; but always possible that at some point in the future, someone is going to need an electrically-powered device capable of blowing hot air.

            1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

              You just described an iPhone

        3. herman Silver badge

          OK, so now the Lawyer is OK, but the psychiatrist is poor. Obviously he flunked economics 101.

      3. quxinot

        >The thing these neurotic hypochondriacs who claim to "suffer" from this sort of EM sensitivity need the most is a psychiatrist, not a sys admin :)<

        A psychiatrist will have ECT, which is nearly as good but not as satisfying as a cattleprod. Thus, a good sysadmin will be more effective in treating the problem.

      4. macjules Silver badge

        There is a rather simple answer to all of these types of people. In the 90's golden age of SIMM chip replacements and static-inducing carpets in offices I used to regularly carry a box of Anti Static Adjustable Grounding Straps. I could always spare one for the occasional neurotic graphic designer worried about radiation leakage from their 21" RasterOps screen.

        1. BongoJoe

          In the 90's golden age of SIMM chip replacements and static-inducing carpets in offices I used to regularly carry a box of Anti Static Adjustable Grounding Straps

          Or just wash one's hands, don't dry them but shake them loose of droplets.

          Damp hands won't discharge static. A boffinry trick my dad told me during his Strange Days at the Ministry of Good.

          1. jake Silver badge

            "Damp hands won't discharge static."

            So it's safe to play golf in a dry lightning storm?

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: "Damp hands won't discharge static."

              NOT safe to play, & etc.

              That'll teach me to post before coffee ...

    3. Just Enough

      Think you've heard this one before?

      Well users like this seem to be uncannily common. Here's almost the exact same story from last year;

    4. phuzz Silver badge

      Fortunately I only had to deal with this particular user due to covering for a someone's holiday, but I believe they're still at the company, and still batshit.

      So, I forget exactly what I was doing that day, it might have been a file server migration, anyway, I was going round all of the desktops in a company, and I reached a desk sat just outside the MD's office. The user wasn't there, so I sat down and started doing whatever my job was that day.

      Well, I tried to do my job, but for some reason the mouse wouldn't work right. It didn't move smoothly, and wasn't tracking right. So I turned over the offending rodent, and found that someone had sellotaped a 2p coin to the bottom, I ripped it off and continued.

      The user eventually came back, walking across the office yapping on their iPhone the whole way. Eventually they finished their conversation and asked what I was up to, I explained, and added that I'd fixed their mouse by removing the coin. They replied that they were "allergic to electro-magnetic waves" and that the 'copper' 2p was somehow supposed to help.

      I informed them that the best way to avoid exposure to harmful electro-magnetic waves was to wear sun-screen and left them to their delusions.

    5. Steve Evans

      Me too...

      Although my dark side would weld them a 6 foot high pyramid frame and install that over their office chair on the pretense of blocking negative woowoos.

      And then sit back and watch them defend the rusty monstrosity to their manager.

      1. BongoJoe

        Why not install a positive wave emitter, say a microwave with the door broken off, near their desk and explain that the interference from the two sets of waves will cancel the other out?

    6. leexgx

      i had to abandon going to one of my customers any more as it was getting silly (most plug in power packs kick out more EMI then wifi does, also O2 mobile mast about 300-400 meters away)

      god knows what happened when local council installed solar panels on there roof (going to have to walk past and see if it has solar panels on it not that he has much choice as he does not own the flat and the meter is on the outside in a cupboard)

  2. TonyJ Silver badge

    Had a colleague here complain that her laptop was typing random characters.

    A mutual colleague leaned over and took the banana off the USB keyboard that was plugged into her docking station.

    Her reply..."Oh that's my keyboard?"

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Back in school days, a more minor prank was to daisy chain a few keyboards (these were Mac LCiii's, so each keyboard had an ADB socket intended for the mouse) so that a few of us could type characters on the end computer being used by the keeno (slang noun: fellow pupil letting down the values we held dear by exhibiting keenness and diligence to their school work).

  3. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    A solution

    Switch off 'puter, do lots of fiddling around then exclaim "Oh, they've got the Foo plug in the Bar socket". Swap two innocuous USB plugs, then "It'll take a while for the negativity to drain away, but within a day or two you should notice the improvement".

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: A solution

      @will... you just reminded me of another anecdote, with your draining comment...

      When I first start working many moons ago, my then already senior in years (to a snot-nosed youth, I'd have said "old" but I'm now about the age he was then and it's not old...oh no!) colleague used to look after a line printer in a company.

      Said company worked out of a small unit in an industrial estate and on cold, damp mornings the platen would suffer from a hint of damp/mildew that'd cause the paper to slip.

      The fix was simply to turn it on and let it warm up before printing but they couldn't get the message and he was back and forth a number of times.

      Then one day, he apparently told the receptionist that he'd spoken to the manufacturer and they'd recommended that they needed to turn the printer on and leave it for 15-20 minutes to allow any stale electricity from the night before to pass through.

      It must've worked as he never got called out again.

      1. David Nash Silver badge

        Re: A solution

        Stale electricity? Amusing, but in that instance, why would he not have told the real reason?

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: A solution

          "Amusing, but in that instance, why would he not have told the real reason?"

          Presumably because he had done so and been ignored.

          Most of these devices used to come with a night mode specifically to prevent such things happening and users would switch them off at the wall despite being specifically told not to.

          We would find that we could happily bill them $140 per call out, just so they could save 1c in electricity.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: A solution

            14 thumbs up over the weekend.

            On a more expensive note in the UK and a reminder of how woo factors can affect us all: many local councils have taken to switching off street lights for part of the night (1am-4am) - most being flourescents on minor streets.

            A quick calculation shows that the power savings is about 40p/year (at most), whilst the lamps are about £8 apiece and replacement cost is about £50 each (labour charge).

            The average life of a flourescent tube is 8000 hours (when run 8 hours per day) or 1500 cycles. If you run them 4 hours per cycle then this shortens down to about 4000 hours - the cycle limit is due to the filaments in the ends of the things and electronic starters don't make much difference.

            So in order to save a few hundred thousand pounds in electricity charges, councils are spending millions with lighting contractors instead (It's not an issue if they're LEDs of course, but led lamps can be dimmed down to 10% brightness/power consumption and instantly perk up if there's movement detected underneath).

            Nice scam if you can sign up for it.

        2. michael cadoux

          Re: A solution

          After the previous failures of his other advice, he must have worked out that stale electricity was a reason the users would respect and obey

        3. Shadowmanx2012

          Re: A solution

          Stale electricity? Amusing, but in that instance, why would he not have told the real reason?

          Probably because he had and they didn't listen.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: A solution

            My ex-missus insisted we had a copper wire pyramid located on top of the monitor and on the top of the PC case.

    2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: A solution

      Or: perhaps the earth on the power cable is faulty, I'll take it away and "bring back a different one".

    3. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: A solution

      The same effect can be achieved by placing a small amethyst crystal that has been energised by the light of the waning moon one cubit above the computer.


      Dedicated computer woo agents are in your area now! Because you are a very special person, we are offering this service which is normally only available to Hollywood celebrities for just £39.99 (monthly crystal recharging fee applies). Call now and you will receive this free - yes free - bottle of Atlantean Spiritual Dimension Alignment sparkling water that not only polishes your chakra but can be useful in combating the symptoms of dehydration.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: A solution

        Erm, what if my chakra is already so polished that my chi keeps sliding off it?

        Other than that, your service sounds excellent!

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: A solution

          what if my chakra is already so polished that my chi keeps sliding off it?

          That's OK, we also supply Spiritual Sandpaper. It looks like regular 80gsm A4 printer paper, but has been specially energised by our experienced monks to ensure that your chi-chakra interface works properly.

          Available now at a bargain price of £2.99 per sheet.

          (Warning: each sheet is only usable once and then must be disposed of properly. We also offer a disposal service at a competitive rate of £2.99 per sheet. Terms and Conditions apply.)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: A solution

            I'd be willing to bet the user in question was a public servant angling for some sick leave , and probably had cost the department a small fortune in special equipment already.

            This negative wave ailment would be superb opportunity to insist the user wears a special chain mail beeny hat at all times .


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