back to article My PC is on fire! Can you back it up really, really fast?

Welcome again to On-Call, The Register’s weekly reader-contributed column in which we tease out tales from the trenches of tech support. This week, meet “Rick” who used to work for an outsourced tech support company that worked for several big technology brands. Rick answered calls for Microsoft, Iomega, 3Com, Dell, Corel “ …

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Go with the flow,

200% turn over, if rates are that high then it’s likely best to go with tide rather than fight against it, they can’t all be wrong especially if you need counselling after.

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Re: Go with the flow,

At one place, I got the IT Manager job 4 times in 5 years... The first was fired, I took over until they found a replacement - who had a nervous breakdown inside a year, the same procedure again, the next had a nervous breakdown after 18 months, the next didn't survive his probationary period...

I finally quit before I had a nervous breakdown...

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Re: Go with the flow,

Lemme fix that for ya:

Little things like that mean a lot to Rick because life on that any help desk wasn’t much fun.

Until remote access, the help desk was wave after wave of "what do you mean?" and "No, I can't find that button." (the one square in the middle of the top of the screen). Gawd forbid you should have to send out a tech since then you'd spend the next 2-4 hours fielding "where's my tech!?" calls.

On the plus side, you did learn never to underestimate the potential ignorance of users.

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Re: Go with the flow,

Once worked for an IT waste refurbishment (new stickers on old junk) company, no formal customer support although the owners were ex IT support people themselves. I had to take someone through booting from an XP install CD, getting to the recovery command prompt and doing chkdsk /f, over the phone, letter by letter. Disk corruption caused by not shutting down.

There were occasional good days, like when we got in a BBC Master that turned out to have the Domesday Project SCSI controller and second processor fitted. If they had the Laserdisc drive too I'd have taken it off their hands myself in short order.

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Funny coincidence...

No later than last Wednesday, it was 22 o'clock, I was just asleep when I received a phone call from one of our department secretaries: a student had call in panic, there was a fire in my office.

They unplugged the machine and I went back to sleep.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Funny coincidence...

I would not be scared of the IT problems (this aint no TSB...). I'd be scared of normal human function! If the building/thing in the building is on fire, the first thing to do is NOT wake up IT management in the middle of the night!

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Anonymous Coward

I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

As I recall there was some Bunsen burners involved and a classroom blind, followed by a swift trip to the staff room to admit "there has been a small fire in the classroom".

Personally never managed to get further than loud bangs and smoke in my IT experience. No actual fire.

I do recall possessing an Iomega ZIP drive though. It worked some of the time, was about as fast as retyping my documents on another screen and was disturbingly temperamental when trying to read files back (sometimes total loss) telling me disks had been corrupted within a few minutes of them being written. Biggest waste of cash in my youth (that's IT related...)

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Only real school fire we had was a small one in the woodwork room (I was nowhere near it, so don't know all the details). The rector (head teacher) decided it would be a great opportunity for a fire evacuation test. As we got to the top of the stairs, we could smell the burning smell which had permeated through the corridors - it certainly added a little more urgency to a fire alarm test!

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

I had a Zip drive, well, 2, an IDE one in my home PC and a parallel port one at work...

Our OLAP database took around 8 hours to re-calculate on the client's server... Copying the export to disk, driving home, calculating it on my home PC, exporting the complete hypercube and driving back to work and reloading it on the server only took 4 hours (with an hour's drive each way).

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

We students used Zip drives at university, and I even got one in my home pc. The university computers had Windows 2000 which had an interesting bug: it would rewrite a zip disc with the contents of the previous Zip disc to be inserted in that machine. Grr.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

We had a client which printed balloons. High carbon content ink dust and AT format PCs.

Got a call one day that there were flames coming out of the PC under the desk, and what to do.

"Can you reach the power socket on the wall above your desk?" "yes" "turn it off and get the hell out of there!"

(my back up plan was "get out of there and turn the isolator on the outside of the portacabin office")

When we got the machine to look at, the PSU was toast, but everything else worked with a new PSU, so we assumed it was the carbon ink dust that ignited for some reason, but it still ranks as the weirdest call I've had.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Ahhh, Zip drives.

I had to toss mine as it was useless what with today's fat files.

Sad to see it go, was a great little helper with storage.

And no, I did not get the dreaded click of death.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Not a fire story, a cyanide gas story. High school in the 80's, chemistry teacher decided to demonstrate how cyanide gas is produced, mixed the appropriate ingredients in the gas extraction chamber and we were advised to stand back, during the experiment, the chamber decided to break down and was partially open to the rest of the lab. Cue very urgent shouts from teacher to 'get the fuck out as fast as possible'. As the chamber was near the door we rather ungracefully exited via the windows. If the lab had not been on the ground floor, I reckon it could have turned into a pretty nasty situation.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

I had one PC, no fire, but network didn't work, then the power went...

When I investigated, the PC was in the sulfuric acid store and the fumes had eaten away at the network port and major parts of the PSU. There was rust all over the case and parts of the motherboard also didn't look too healthy.

The problem was, the network connection had become intermittent some time earlier, so they had stopped saving their files on the server and they were stored just on the local PC... The case was a lot thinner than it should have been in places and some of the edge connectors for the IDE port were corroded as well.

Somehow I managed to clean up the connectors enough to get a clean signal and dumped the contents of the drive onto a new disk.

Edit: And as to exiting via windows, one guy was working late one night and the last one out set the alarm... The penultimate employee to leave the building didn't check thoroughly and thought he was the last and set the alarm... A few minutes later the last employee moved a bit too much at his desk and set off the motion sensor. Panic ensued and he leapt out of the window... Which was 3M above the ground and managed to break his femur.

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Happy

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

I had happy memories of a ZIP drive - it was my backup solution of the day (1997) and it was quite a substantial upgrade from the Floppy disc backup I was using! I had a parallel port one at first for my 486 laptop then moved to an IDE one when I got a desktop. Thankfully no click of death or any other problems - I wasn't so lucky with a later purchase of an Iomega REV drive which was a POS. I do wonder if the IDE one will still work as I found it in an old computer box along with a load of 100MB disks. It's crazy to think it'll barely hold an MP3 album now.

[For those clamouring to know, my next backup solution was a HP 2.5GB Colorado tape drive. HP support was reasonably good back then happily swapping out two tapes that failed]

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WTF?

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

...a cyanide gas story...

I'm curious as to what made the teacher in question think that this would ever be a good idea, as opposed to...say...CO2 or H2 gas? And, assuming he thought it over several times and decided it *would* be a good idea, why he would ever use anything more than a minute quantity of chemicals, since cyanide is colorless.

For the more adventurous:

http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/category/things-i-wont-work-with

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6vR0BdRCNY See bad chemical accident.

In the US there is almost no regulations of labs in schools in the US.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

I'm guessing you are from a younger generation than me. Way back when, we had specific teachers for chemistry, physics and biology, each a specialist in their own field and they all loved the experimental lessons. Two lessons of each field of science a week, one theory, the other, getting hands dirty in the labs. It was all about the adventure of discovery, doing stuff that wouldn't always be in the exam paper but was fascinating to learn. This was high school back then, 11-18 year olds being presented with stuff that could blow your mind, or kill it, as per the cyanide gas demonstration. Yes, the gas is colourless but we were transfixed watching the experiment, knowing the gas could wreak so much harm, it was like watching silent death, we were in awe, so when the extraction chamber broke down it was frightening yet exhilarating to escape at the same time.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Only real school fire we had was a small one in the woodwork room

Not a fire but I once dropped a bottle of concentrated ammonia in the chemistry lab. Sadly, not inside the fume hood..

(Freshly-washed hands, carry bottle to fume cupboard, managed to knock my hand against the frame of the fume cupboard while not looking. Bottle started to drop with the top firmly on. In trying to catch it, I managed to knock the cap so it became loose. Bottle then hit the floor and spread conc. ammonia all over the floor. That chemistry lab was closed for about 4 days while they dealt with the spill..).

Mind you, we also did plenty of stuff that involved pyrotechnics (after all, that's mostly the reason why teenage boys do chemistry - in my experience anyway). Including melting the polystyrene ceiling tiles by vastly exceeded the amount of chemicals in the thermite reaction, scaring some 4th-years silly by shooting 2-litre empty lemonade bottles into their chemistry lab from the prep lab, making nitrogen tri-iodide[1] and painting it on cycle-paths[2]..

[1] Don't try this at home children. No really, don't. Nitrogen tri-iodide is *very* unstable.

[2] As did my father before me..

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Stuff we did in the labs when I was at school which I bet kids aren't allowed to do nowadays...

- Burning strips of magnesium in a bunsen burner

- Dropping lumps of sodium into dishes of water

- Filling a cocoa tin with gas and letting it burned down until the gas:air ratio was explosive, causing the lid to shoot across the room

- Various experiments involving mercury

- Making gun cotton

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

We had the IDE zip drives available on nearly every PC for students. Over 200. After a couple of years, we were starting to get reliability issues with a few of them. That, combined with earlier experiences of the click of death (although I don't believe this actually happened to the IDE zip drives, merely the externals), and the fact that our sales of the disks had really tailed of (we had actually sold less than 5 in previous year, down from about 10 a month) persuaded me to ask the Lab manager if maybe we should just remove all the drives, and keep a couple of externals just in case students needed them.

He, unfortunately for me, loved the idea. Why unfortunately for me? I was one of his staff and so got given the task of removing and disposing of 60 of the bloody things. I came with the idea, but hadn't thought the practicalities through..

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Headmaster

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

"Dropping lumps of sodium into dishes of water"

Our chemistry teacher was a small man, but liked big experiments. He took a cork sized chunk of sodium out of the oil filled jar, and cut a small piece off - about the size of a dried pea. We watched it fizz around in a petri dish for a few seconds. Ho hum. Then he told us that potassium was more reactive. To demonstrate this we were led outside, with a similar, oil filled jar of cork sized potassium chunks, one of which he lobbed into the swimming pool. Bang - science!

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

"Not a fire but I once dropped a bottle of concentrated ammonia in the chemistry lab. Sadly, not inside the fume hood.."

My memory is now vague about the substance involved, but I recall my (trustworthy) elder brother returning from a Chemistry lesson one day and relating that someone had knocked over a jar of X. The good news was that it was in the fume cupboard. The bad news was that X was denser than air and so it just went up the chimney and then back down again over the entire school site.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

"- Dropping lumps of sodium into dishes of water"

I can confirm that you haven't been able to do that for a while. We had to watch a video of it.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Since it can be, literally, set off by the touch of a feather, or the touch of alpha particle radiation, how on earth do you manage to paint it on a cycle path?

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Mushroom

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

It starts life in solution. It's only when it's dry that it goes bang. That's why it's so wonderful :)

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

"To demonstrate this we were led outside, with a similar, oil filled jar of cork sized potassium chunks"

Next up: caesium.

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@Russell Chapman Esq.

It's probably a good thing then that the instructor didn't try nitrating glycerin then. We had one go wrong at the high school I went to. The teacher lost several fingers and everyone's ears rang for several days.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Stuff we did in the labs when I was at school which I bet kids aren't allowed to do nowadays...

Yes, all of those, plus my personal favourite - using a Van Der Graaf generator to get yourself charged up to several zillion volts, then lighting a Bunsen burner with the static spark. We actually used that as a demo at our School Open Day!

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Re: @Russell Chapman Esq.

"It's probably a good thing then that the instructor didn't try nitrating glycerin then. We had one go wrong at the high school I went to. The teacher lost several fingers and everyone's ears rang for several days."

My chemistry teacher gave us the sage advice not to make more than a teaspoon of nitroglycerin at a time. That way when it exploded we'd still have the fingers on the other hand to dial the ambulance.

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swm
Mushroom

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Students in one unnamed institution had a habit of adding acid to NaCN to generate cyanide gas when it was a nice day outside. The instructor had no choice but to dismiss the class rapidly. It got so bad that they locked up all of the NaCN and tested with litmus paper to make sure you weren't adding it to acid. (The students just added acid later.)

Another story was the person who resupplied the containers of sodium in the organic chem lab. Sodium is kept under kerosene to prevent it from oxidizing so the procedure was to remove a block from the large shipping jar and take it to a nearby sink and shave off the crud before depositing it in the smaller jars scattered around the lab. When these shavings contacted the water in the sink they would sputter a bit but no harm until someone was running a chem experiment that ejected inflammable into the same sink. The experiment caught fire - still no problem but it set off the sprinkler system. Remember the large open supply jar? Water got into it and promptly started a real fire.The fire department was called.

The firemen asked, "What's in there? A chem lab? We're not going in there." so the fire just burned itself out.

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swm

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Brings back memories of making lots of nitrogen tri-iodide in high school and spreading it on floors to see the beetles blow themselves up. The explosion makes a nice purple cloud.

Too bad kids today can't play with fun stuff.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

We are allowed to do the exploding can.

Problem is good metal cans are really hard to find now, most paint comes in plastic ones as do biscuits etc.

Anyone got a suggestion for a reliable source?

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

First week of GTP teacher training ie training by teaching.

Scheme of work said to show students that phosphorous didn't conduct electricity by clipping leads to each end of a small rod of phosphorous and showing no current flowed. Thought, strange but must be OK as in SOW.

Students on one side of desk me on the other, dry of phosphorous with tissue and attach leads. Show no cur rent flowing. Leads curl up break phosphorous rod which ignites and is flicked towards students. At which point I do not quite think straight and brush the bits of burning phosphorous back towards me with my hand.

Result? My hand is now on fire, so I try to put it out by smothering it with the tissue (not thinking straight see). So now my hand is on fire AND the tissues, at which point I completely lose the ability to think straight and throw the burning tissues in the bin. So now my hand, the tissues and the bin are on fire.

Eventually I manage to get it under control. Open the windows to get rid of the smell of burning paper and, well, flesh.

I can hear outide a commotion about the smell and so decide to control it by opening the door to explain. When I open the door, holding my burnt hand behind me, there right in my face is the headmistress, together with the chair of governors.

I look at her she looks at me, seconds pass. Eventally she says "Chemistry?", I say "Yes", she says "OK" and walks off.

I had small burn holes to the bone....phosphorous was taken off that SOW.

On the plus side the kids absolutely loved it and asked for an encore.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

When I was a new teacher I made many mistakes. One of which was knowing when to and when not to tell students what to do/not to do.

With one year 8 class we were doing some experiment but unfortunately the chemicals had become contaminated and we started producing quit a lot of Hydrogen Sulphide.

No doubt you know hydrogen suplhide is bad egg gas what you might not know is that it is lethal at quite low concentrations (it is extremely smelly at minute concentrations).

So I decided to evacuate the classroom. I explained to the students what we were going to do and told them "Whatever you do do NOT sniff the test tubes". At which point it was like being at a Colombian marching powder testing centre.

Outside many students complained of feeling unwell (they wanted to sit in the sun) but CLEAPS said to watch over them whilst they 'recover'.

They ALL recovered when the eos bell went.

However on getting home they no doubt told their parents all about it and what with the school having to inform the parents the end result was 1/3 went to hospitals for a check up.

1/3 a new record!

(Of course there was nothing wrong, panicky parents)

Moral: if you don't want kids to do something don't tell them not to do it.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Nitrogen tri-iodide sprinkled in front of blackboard. After various amusing bang-crackle-pop noises realises what's going on, wipes floor and bottom of shoes with dampened blackboard eraser -- you know, those ones with a strip of padded fabric in a wooden handle. By the next lesson (different chemistry teacher) eraser has dried out, said teacher has habit of banging eraser on board to attract attention...

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Nerd at school who shall remain nameless had father who worked at chemical works (Hickson & Welch in Castleford), asked him to bring a lump of sodium home to try this. "Lump" turned out to be a brick -- named due to size -- kept under oil. Nerd builds motorised Meccano conveyor belt the length of back garden, places large bucket filled with water at far end, places sodium brick in Tupperware container of oil on belt, starts belt, runs for cover. Cue large smoking crater in lawn, bits of Meccano and garden fence found several gardens away...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Reminds me of a science enrichment class we had in the 4th grade. Still remember it because the chemistry teacher made tear gas for us to "see what it was like". Was the last item of the day, and everyone had to decide if they wanted to sniff it or not.

Was an interesting experience, and one of the things I doubt I'll ever forget.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Our Chemistry teacher used one of those wide glass bowls for that experiment - Sodium was fine, fizzed and popped over the surface but the Potassium exploded (I think it ignited the gas it was producing) and split the glass bowl drenching the teacher from about the waist downwards. He didn't do Potassium the next year...

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Try looking for paint with the really nasty environmental hazard stickers on it - they generally come in metal cans. (don't think plastic can hold it)

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Mushroom

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

My dad painted the inside of someone's desk with it. It is, as you say, safe in solution. Not so much later. :)

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Metal cans

We are allowed to do the exploding can....

...Anyone got a suggestion for a reliable source?

IIRC we used a golden syrup tin although black treacle is the same construction quality - it was ~40 years ago mind ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

Is that the best you've got?!

My High School Chemistry teacher had a student that was always asking him a bunch of hypothetical questions about nuclear reactors--which of course he answered, without ever realizing that this lunatic was actually building a nuclear reactor in his mom's shed!

From what my teacher told us, this kid had been contacting these companies, requesting samples of their products for various research projects--which was how he was able to source the materials without spending very much money.

I don't know how this kid ever ended up making Eagle Scout after that, or how he never did any time in jail--but if you follow the tragic arc of his life it still didn't end well for him.

He was like a radioactive version of a firebug (or pyromaniac) with the way that he seemed to be drawn to throughout his entire life. It's sad that he didn't live to see what life has been like since Trump got into office, because we haven't been this close to nuclear war since the 80's--and I think he probably would have appreciated that threat looming.

You can read more about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hahn

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

There was an incident at work once. An A/C engineer was on site to work on the unit in our datacenter, but he forgot to put the fire suppression system into safe mode before turning the A/C off.

Because the A/C was off, the temperature rose and triggered the CO2 because the system thought there was a fire.

The guy is lucky to be alive (he had to go to hospital).

Edit: just remembered a separate incident when my dad put up a picture above the fireplace. He spotted an electrical switch he'd never noticed before (they'd lived there for several years I think) near the fireplace. He shrugged it off thinking if it was important they'd have known about it. He started to drill into the wall, coincidentally directly above that switch. The sparkys amongst you know what happens next. He woke up at the other side of the room, shaken but thankfully otherwise unhurt.

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

That fire story seems familiar:

http://www.loadingartist.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2017-03-30-burned.gif

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Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

"Brings back memories of making lots of nitrogen tri-iodide in high school and spreading it on floors to see the beetles blow themselves up. The explosion makes a nice purple cloud."

The same Chem teacher who gave the advice about home made nitroglycerine taught us to make touch powder (as it was known then). Great fun spread on the window sills in summer to catch out unsuspecting blow flies. Bzzzzz, CRACK, snigger.

Also fun to spread on pathways which lead to the hilarious sight of a friend demonstrating her dance class piece accompanied by a series of bangs and pops. Hilarious as performance art goes. I wish I had a video of it but not of the bollocking we got shortly after.

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Karma?

Having had worked in help desk myself I have great sympathy for helldesk staff. It comes to a limit though when a guy half across the globe remote controls my computer for five hours straight without solving the problem. Only after these five hours and resetting all my custom settings in MS Office/Outlook he could be convinced to relay to someone who could solve it.

Maybe it was karma biting back... Then again, a colleague of mine got it worse: one day and a half -a total of twelve hours- of not being able to work because one of those helldesk drones tried to solve an issue.

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Pint

Re: Karma?

I got transferred to another department in the UK & put on hold at 7.30pm until 8pm when they went all went home.

I had two lines, helldesk was a freephone number & I left it off the hook all night in my home office.

I certainly made sure to comment on that the following night when calls were recorded for quality assurance purposes.

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Occasionally had smoke coming from devices (generally monitors and terminals) but I've usually caught them before there have been actual flames.

Not strictly IT but I was making coffee when the kettle lead caught fire. Probably a good job it was me as all I did was turn the power off then open the window for the smoke to clear. It turned out the cheap kettle had a standard C14 socket instead of the high temperature C16 notched version and a standard cable had been used instead of the original. I suspect if some others had been faced with that we'd have had a panic!

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Silver badge

Was on duty at a toll road plaza yonkers ago. It was winter, and every toll collector has his/her aircondtioner's heater on in the toll booths.

Supervisor get a panicked call from one toll collector - apparently a fire has started in her AC unit. Strangely nobody acted to extinguish that fire.

I relocated myself swiftly from the control room to the toll booth in question, grabbed the fire extinguisher, located the flames (luckily it was still small) and proceeded to empty the extinguisher on it :) Was fun.

When the AC repair crew rocked up, we found that the culprit was a bad connection to the heater element that overheated and caught fire.

Fun days.

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