back to article Haunted disk-drive? This story will give you the chills...

Welcome once more to On Call, The Register’s regular foray into the freaky world of tech support. This time, we meet “Alexis”, who was called upon to help solve a mystery for a legal publishing company during a boozy lunch with its boss – something we can all get behind on a Friday. “During the early 1980s, I was dabbling in …

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Put a heater in the safe then ?

I really would have liked a bit more of the forensic details on this one. I think I would be amazed as to how the guy actually realized there was a consation problem.

This story was worthy of a bit of the Columbo treatment - too bad it didn't get it.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

How would you power the heater? Ancient safes generally don't have a power supply inside them, and people tend to not want to set fire to the things inside the safe.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

Most contemporary safes have a 3/8 inch hole drilled into the lower right rear to pass a power cord through. My Heritage safe (6' x 3' x 2' interior) uses a 3 watt heater, and I've never had any condensation problems, even with a damp basement. The hole equalizes air pressure so you can open the door after barometric changes, too.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

We had a similar problem with 8" drives. We decided it was the drive, not disks. The horrid Apple II 5.25" floppies and drives not affected (early 1980s). We put an electric convection heater turned low in the room.

Similarly forty PCs built (mid 1990s) in a cold warehouse didn't work on site till HDD reformatted and OS reinstalled. Solution was to keep HDD stock in the office and do final fitting and install there. Which suited me better. Could take off coat!

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

Ah yes... Apple ][ 5 1/4in drives.

Woz had the genius idea of saving 5c on the cost of each drive by deleting the track zero sensor. To ensure that the heads were positioned at track 0 prior to boot up, the computer would smash the heads against the track 0 stop 39 times. That is the source of the awful “brraaaack!” sound characteristic of these drives at power on.

This feature / abuse provided Apple service centres with a regular income stream; customers had to present their drives to have radial alignments performed at regular intervals.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

Instant naughty thought: could that hole be used in conjunction with endoscopic tools to do laparoscopic manipulation of the lock's internals?

Or am I about five centuries too late with that notion?

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

Or just overpressure the safe and blow the bloody doors off

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

My question would be, why was it just the one PC acting up then? Didn't they put all the disks in teh safe? Or did the office only have one PC?

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Happy

Re: Apple ][ drives (Was: Put a heater in the safe then ?)

Woz had the genius idea of saving 5c on the cost of each drive by deleting the track zero sensor. ... the computer would smash the heads against the track 0 stop 39 times.

Actually, no it didn't. I think you'll find it was only 10 times (only one of four steps on the stepper would be pushing against the stop), and it could have been less because (from memory) they ran the heads out first - so you'd hear the swish and potentially clicking as the needle skipped in the groove - before it ran back and made a few taps.

And it wasn't the heads against the stop, it was a part of the carriage specifically arranged to engage with the head positioner scroll disk.

This feature / abuse provided Apple service centres with a regular income stream; customers had to present their drives to have radial alignments performed at regular intervals.

Really ? I never once had to have mine done, and I don't know anyone else who did.

But that was really just a minor cost saving. What really saved a lot of money, and showed what a genious Woz was, was how he replaced a couple of VME boards full of chips with just 1/2 dozen chips and a state machine ROM - plus some software. I recall the size and complexity of the two VME boards that formed the controller for the external drives on our Intel MDS at work (not to mention the racket the 8" drives made with their head load solenoid) - and the simplicity of the Apple controller I had at home.

And the creative way he found a better coding and was able to upgrade from (IIRC) 13 sectors/track to (IIRC) 16 s/t with nothing more than updated ROMs (replace P5 and P6 with P5a and P6a) with fresh code and a new state machine.

Ah, this takes me back a bit. Oh those days when 48k (or if a showoff like me, 64k) was considered a lot of RAM and was enough to do useful work. Not to mention the hardware being simple, and slow, enough to easily build your own stuff from a few TTL chips.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

@Shred - "This feature / abuse provided Apple service centres with a regular income stream ..."

This must have formed the cornerstone for Apple's operating "Bible", its still an abuse that Apples practices to this very day (gluing in components, making devices impossibe to fix, going after non-authorised repairs shops).

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

Fill it with a propane/air mixture of the right proportions, then insert an igniter. Kind of like the crude cashpoint-opening method.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

That was never a problem with the four Apple II 5.25" drives that saw heavy use on my mother's & father's houses when I was growing up — my pair still work just fine. From what I have read since then, head drift can gradually occur over time on any floppy drive (esp. one moved around a lot), but will only become detectable when it reaches the point where it can't read disks written by other drives and vice-versa; it will go on reading disks it wrote to just fine.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

This must have formed the cornerstone for Apple's operating "Bible", its still an abuse that Apples practices to this very day (gluing in components, making devices impossibe to fix, going after non-authorised repairs shops).

Nope... The Apple II family of computers were designed to be easily opened & highly user-servicable, and a wide range of third-party companies produced all kinds of expansion cards for users to cram into them; they were just like PCs in that respect. Apple didn't start locking down their hardware and or shutting down 'unauthorized' repair shops until around the time Jobs returned as a pseudo-mythological figurehead.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

Wasn't it the IIci that could be dis-assembled without even using tools? Everything just unclipped. excellent piece of kit to work on.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

@Unicornpiss

"My question would be, why was it just the one PC acting up then? Didn't they put all the disks in teh safe? Or did the office only have one PC?"

Judging by the description I'd say they only had one PC. Remember it wasn't really until the 90's that PCs came down enough in price that they became almost a commodity item, even in an office environment. My first PC cost me 4 grand back around 1995.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

Hobby shops sell a silicone desiccant, the same stuff that's in the "do not eat" packets in almost everything packaged overseas. Use until the problem starts to reoccur, then heat the desiccant (could put it on a radiator or floor vent) and it will drive off the moisture and you are good to go some more.

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Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

Maybe a heater was not necessary. The floppy disks could have been stored in padded envelopes to insulate them, which would prevent condensation, and the interior humidity of the safe could have been reduced with desiccation sachets.

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Actually

The condensation would form when they took the discs out of the cool safe and exposed them to a relatively warm and damp old office full of people breathing.

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Joke

Re: Actually

There's an obvious answer here - P45s all round!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Actually

Doesn't the P45 resolve most user issues, unfortunately push out enough and the techies get them too

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Headmaster

Re: Actually

Why would the P45s be circular?

Oh, you meant "around"...

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Re: Actually

He probably meant all 'round, if you want to be a really pedantic git.

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Re: Actually

Why would the P45s be circular?

Oh, you meant "around"...

I meant in a similar way to Private Eye's "Trebles all round".

Have a Pedantry Pint ->

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Re: Actually

There's an obvious answer here

I'm surprised you missed the most obvious one: stop them all from breathing out.

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Similar scenario with a line printer

I once worked with a colleague who'd been repeatedly called out to solve issues with a line printer in the 80's.

Said printer was in a an office in a small industrial unit. Most Monday mornings, the platen on the printer would have a nice sheen of condensation, causing the paper to slip.

Despite repeatedly explaining that there was nothing they could do other than allow the condensation to disperse, he was there almost weekly.

Until he explained to the girl there that it was down to the stale electricity from the weekend and they needed to wait an hour or two for it to pass through and have enough energy to drive the printer.

No more calls.

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Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

Platen?

Line printers are usually tractor feed.

(and the really high speed ones have fancy negative-ion static generators to neutralise the positive charge on the paper, so it keeps flowing smoothly...or the other way round)

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Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

We always used to have trouble with new paper jamming in the copiers at an old job. The paper was kept in an outdoor lockup, and (you've guessed it) was cold and damp when brought inside.

Keeping a couple of boxes handy indoors sorted that problem - that gave the paper a chance to warm up and dry out so it wouldn't stick together.

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Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

> he was there almost weekly

A sure sign that he needs to double his call-out rates, at least to that particular customer.

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Similar scenario with a computer operator

He'd be absolutely fine the night before, as I cheerily said "good night" adding "I'd see you in the morning"

He'd be ordering one last beer and the next time I see him, he'd be a dysfunctional mess.

We never did fathom the problem.

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This post has been deleted by its author

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Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

I visited a house years ago where an OAP family friend lived. She was told that I had just done my Electrics basics exam and passed. I was then quizzed about the lovely three pin sockets that littered the walls of the house. Does the electricity leak all over the place when the switch is set to on? Is it dangerous to have it all over the floor and can it get through the floorboards? Should she keep something plugged in to the socket to keep it from leaking?

My mum whispered to me that whatever I said I must not frighten her with my answers. So I explained everything in a way she'd understand and not be worried by. The only thing I said that wasn't true was that the electricity that came out of the three pin sockets was better quality than the stuff that came out of the old two pin sockets. Apparently she had expressed a desire on more than one occasion to go back to the old ones.

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Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

"The only thing I said that wasn't true was that the electricity that came out of the three pin sockets was better quality than the stuff that came out of the old two pin sockets."

Even that's not exactly untrue. "Less likely to kill you" is better in my book.

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Static on paper

It don't half give you a belt, does that.

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Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

We had a similar problem with a copier that was located in a "lifestyle" office (located in a seaside town famous for wineries and surf, a couple of hours drive from head office. This allowed the directors the ability to have a long weekend at their beach "shack" and still do some work. Obviously this was in the days before ubiquitous mobile phones, wireless data services and remote access)

The copier was set up by the local copier company originally ("local" being a 30 minute highway drive away) and we had not been on site to inspect. It constantly jammed and it was almost every second day that the support company had to visit ( and would change an hour travel time each time).

When we did come in for other work ( rewiring the data switch ) we could tell what the problem was instantly. The printer was located directly below the outlet of a cassette air conditioner, and was constantly being blasted with cool damp air. This resulted in the paper (stored in a cupboard next to the printer) absorbing moisture and curling when exposed to the heated interior of the printer.

We moved the printer and paper to the other side of the room and it fixed the issue.

Mind you it paid for us to have a nice weekend in Busselton :)

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Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

The Busselton with the pier in WA? nice spot!

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Re: Static on paper

Two thirds of a belt as compared to the mighty three pinned belt you get today.

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Happy

Nice one!

Might have been kept for a Halloween edition, but maybe the Reg have a more eldritch story up their sleeves.

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Pint

> FWIW, similar problems with morning go-slows at Vulture Central are often solved by pouring coffee down writers' throats.

Heh - I'd have thought it would be hair o' the dog, not coffee, to get the morning go-slows going

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They're journalists, methylated spirits would probably work just as well as alcohol.

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They're journalists, methylated spirits would probably work just as well as alcohol.

BigClive tasted it ROTF

BigClive tastes Methylated spirit

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But which methylated spirits? Ordinary commercial, without crystal violet but with pyridine, with crystal violet but without pyridine, of crystal violet and pyridine free?

Like many things the simple statement covers a multitude of sins,

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Anonymous Coward

I remember once

Doings some work on a custom telnet client for a guy selling applications into business.

He also sold hardware. Branded Apricots and generic PC clones, All DOS 2.x stuff

"Look" he said "How my DOS database application runs 5x faster on the Apricot, than on the Clone!"

"That does not compute" I said 'let me take a look"

Yep. On the Apricot config.sys was configured with 5 times and many buffers for file caching as on the clone. I adjusted the clone to the same.

"Look" I said "The clone is faster"

I never got asked back.

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Re: I remember once

"it is amazing how hard it is to understand something when your livelihood depends on not understanding it"

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Pull the other...

"* FWIW, similar problems with morning go-slows at Vulture Central are often solved by pouring coffee down writers' throats."

Sure. Coffee. Right...

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Re: Pull the other...

What's wrong with that?

Coffee in the morning to get things going, the antidote for which is beer in the afternoon!

Icon - Because there's no cup of coffee and it's Friday!

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Re: Pull the other...

Tea for me. Ta Muchly.

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Holmes

ED-209

A few years back I was working for Scotrail, well not them, but as a sub contractor to the contractor contracted to the contrator with the contract fot Scotrail.

One day we had to move one of the large format printers from a shed on the platform as it wasn't working well ( in a freezing shed on a cold damp platform in the middle of Glasgow who'd have guessed) .

Although we had the key, the door was stuck so badly we had to shoulder charge it open (thinking, we'll get arrested if we are not careful).

We then trundled the thing along the platform out of the gates and into the street, and no one said a word..

When we installed it into the new office inside my 'boss' plugged it in where all the lights came on and beeping like a Glaswegian on Daytime TV.

"It's broken" (or words to that effect) he said.

I told him to unplug it and wait a couple of days (there would be a LOT of drying out and the buidling wasn't THAT warm.

Sure enough a couple of days later powered up and worked perfectly.

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Re: ED-209

Have a Friday ------------------>>

Just for the phrase "beeping like a Glaswegian on Daytime TV."

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Re: ED-209

Cheers!

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