Re: No quite wizadry but...
I have a stick with a nail in it -- for fishing cables out from under desks, obviously...
Welcome again to On-Call, the Friday slot we dedicate to readers' tales of odd jobs at odd times. This week: two readers spin webs of illusion to convince users their troubles had disappeared as if by magic. Let's start with “Levi”, who told us of his time “in the third tier role of a customer support department.” One fine …
Probably apocryphal, but in my early days as a sysadmin I was chatting to an IBM CE who told me the tale of a known fault with some external hard drives.
Apparently the fluid/lubricant that allowed the disk to spin would occasionally separate, causing the disk to show errors. The "fix" was to send 2 CE onsite, whilst the senior distracted the customer, the junior placed the manual on a desk, took the disk unit and dropped it on the manual from a few inches a number of times, the manual was to deaden the noise.. This caused the fluid to mix up to a standard constancy and work long enough to recover the data before a replacement was delivered.
Not apocryphal at all. There was a series of IBM disk drives (back around 1993-4 I think) where some of the internal rubber in the seals degraded. It was fine when the disk was spinning, but if the disk was powered off, the tiny fragments or rubber would land on the platter, and then get stuck in the heads leading to dead disks.
We had a couple of servers where multiple disks in the RAID had failed, and the fix was to drop the disk (sideways, on it's long edge) against the disk from about 3" high, two or three times, before putting it back in the server and see if it span up. Following that, we had the IBM engineer on site for about 3 days swapping the disks out one at a time on the servers (IBM only replaced the disks, not the RAID mounting cage). An exceedingly dull job for him!
This was probably 5.25 half height 1GB 'Spitfire' disks.
You are close, but the wrong lubricant was used during manufacture, and it vaporized when the disk was spinning, and condensed on the disk surface when the disk cooled down. When the disk was powered down, the head was parked in contact with the landing zone on the platter, and promptly stuck enough so that the motor could not get the disk to start spinning. A quick tap would free the head, and allow the disk to spin.
The condition was termed 'Stiction' (portmanteau of Stick and Friction), and IBM had a recall on all of the disks, although they would only be replaced when they failed to spin up. The replacement had to come from a pool of disks specifically for warranty replacement of this problem, so when a CE came across such a disk, he generally 'fixed' the disk, and then ordered one of the replacements and arranged to come and fit it. In some customers, the disks were never replaced, because scheduled maintenance was difficult to arrange.
Stiction is a portmanteau of Static & Friction.
Happened with virtually all drives, on and off, unless measures were taken against it. Remember ST-506 drives? One of the setup parameters was the "Landing Zone". This was a special place for parking the heads to alleviate this problem. IDE and SCSI drives had enough smarts to park the heads themselves.
Stiction was an issue for mag tape, too, but I'll leave the details as an exercise for the reader.
"The condition was termed 'Stiction'"
It wasn't just IBM with this problem. During the early-mid 1990s it occured on a variety of drives from a variety of manufacturers.
The alternative to a tap - if you could remove the drive - was to twist it sharply around the platter spin axis and put it back in quickly. This usually worked without risking head damage.
When our IBM XT PCs played up, the standard first-line support "fix" was to turn them off (I miss the "Big Red Switch") lift them about 2cm off the desk, make sure they were level and then allow them to drop. It often worked, the theory was that it would reseat the chips and cards.
It worked on IBM ATs too, but often didn't work on "lesser" machines. We speculated that they did not have the necessary gravitas.
A friend of mine related a story about percussive maintenance. When he was in the US Navy as an electronics tech, there was a certain terminal that would break once in a while, When said terminal was reassembled, it might need a whack on the side before the CRT scan would sync up. A young lieutenant was ushering a group of visitors on the bridge when my friend had finished maintenance. The display went on the fritz, and the lieutenant told his visitors, "Now see how this sailor uses his technical expertise to fix the problem." Since my friend was known to be religious, he said a prayer: "Heavenly Father, please show your mercy and blessings upon this terminal. Heal!" And "laid on hands" on both sides of the terminal, whereupon it commenced to work.
He was told by the captain, "Never do that again, unless I'm there to laugh my ass off!"
(Personally, I have had a "broken" printer that commenced to work immediately as I walked in the room.)
years ago I was in the Navy with a guy who grew up on a farm working on old trucks..... he said he would constantly find extra nuts and bolts left over when he was finished putting everything back together.
Finally he caught his dad adding extra ones to his pile....
Lusr would complain, I would go and have a shufty and... all is fine.
Except for two (or more) memorable ones.
First one was a nameless user who used to complain about his printing not being aligned correctly on the paper, and he wanted me to replace his printer driver. That was not my problem, just shuffled the ticket towards the company that was responsible for the printers, and the problem went away :)
Second one (most recent one) was a user who complained bitterly about his laptop - keyboard doing all sorts. Arrived on site, laptop keyboard was fine, but USB ports was all FUBAR. Arranged for another laptop, transferred data - and while the data was being transferred, the keyboard played merry hell with me. (For example, pressing windows key +R will bring up Explorer and the Run dialog. Conversely pressing other keys also trigger its neighbour. Truly a WTF to see). As I did not had a spare USB keyboard at hand, I used the on-screen keyboard. Slow, but it worked. Transferred data, set up replacement laptop, user is happy. Played around with laptop, all is fine. USB works, keyboard works. WTF.
There's others, but these two will remain the most memorable for me.
Similar story to GlenP's, and the user was in a pretty rotten mood when I turned up.
I reckoned that the monitor needed a good, sharp knock to fix the wobbles, and the user was in need of a good laugh.
"The Power of Chris compels you !" *light tap*
"The Power of Chris compels you !!" *not-so-light tap*
"THE POWER OF CHRIS COMPELS YOU !!!" *whack*
The picture's now steady as a rock, and the user's laughing like crazy.
Sometimes, you have to fix the wetware as well as the hardware and software...
On a more serious note, a lot of older monitors and TVs suffered not from dry joints but from joints which had never been soldered at all, or from oxidation(*) buildup on plugs/sockets.
Whacking the thing usually worked. Taking it apart, replugging everything and looking for the inevitable missing solder usually(**) worked permanently.
(*) Or worse if there were smokers around.
(**) unless there were smokers around the equipment.
Forget all this stuff of holy water and feathers - real hardware engineers don't lay on hands. They lay on feet - never underestimate the percussive maintenance technique of judicious application of a size 9 steel toe-capped boot...
Of course the real skill is knowing quite where to apply it. But the look you get when you do and things spring into life is usually worth it.
aeons ago my brother-in-law's PC was behaving in a most odd manner, crashing at odd times, in a most unpredictable fashion.
His friend who 'new a lot about computers' convinced him that he had downloaded something dodgy (intentional or otherwise), hence he would need to re-install Windows and put everything back in....
Well I ran a free AV/spyware thingy, 'nowt showed up.
Nothing was obvious from log files, different programs would crash at different times, with no obvious cause/trigger.
So I opened the lid, after removing a humungous pile of dust balls that were perched over the DIMMs (can't recall exactly what was in the PC) and those by the CPU, then funnily enough it worked absolutely fine.
I do love 'amazing coincidences'!
I was quite pleased about it all...
"So I opened the lid, after removing a humungous pile of dust balls that were perched over the DIMMs (can't recall exactly what was in the PC) and those by the CPU, then funnily enough it worked absolutely fine."
Back in the days when TVs were not only rare but also magnificent pieces of floor standing furniture my aunt, one of the lucky few to own one, looked in the back of hers. She saw a lot of dust. As she liked things to be kept clean she attached it with the vacuum cleaner. Not a good idea.
This is an old joke among factory engineers over here:
The factory engineer was nearing retirement age and the new factory manager wanted to push him out and hire a fresh graduate for the cost savings. Eventually the old engineer capitulated and retired. Some months later an intermittent fault developed with the production line and the shiny new engineer couldn't figure out what was going on.
After losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in production the manager finally calls the old engineer and begs him to come look at the line.
The experienced engineer looks the line over, takes a piece of chalk out of his pocket and marks a piece of the line. "Replace that." and hands the new engineer the piece of chalk.
A week later the manager gets a bill for $100k in consulting services from the old engineer. He calls him and demands an itemized bill. A week later the itemized bill comes:
$1 - piece of chalk
$99,999 - knowing where to put the chalk mark
I have a couple of standard responses to technical questions asked by people who would need a lot of background explanation to understand the answer.
These answers are usually accepted, but failing that they get the full, detailed explanation. Whereupon their "brain saver" usually cuts in after a few seconds.
The 'laying on of hands' is something that will be accepted by everybody as the proverbial 'knowing where to put the X' and making sure things are properly in place, and at first they will be busy catching up, and then at some later point they will ask, and at no time will they actually believe it was anything other than making sure the thing went 'click'. Everybody knows something clever just happened and as part of the game everyone plays along because it's a brief moment of fun in a shit day at the office.
Dwight's story sounds like one that would only work in places where voodoo was a significant part of life and the victim would have to be sufficiently unaware of technology or having touched the on/off switch. And every workstation afterwards then had this 'kit' next to them? Really?
This was a lot of theatrics to take the piss out of someone who was worried about her job, not some rightfully deserving persistent bad-mannered arsehole, for no reason other than to be mightily impressed with oneself and the expression on the doctor's face was actually one of fury before cancelling a service contract due to the engineer being a c**t.
Really? Well, no voodoo round here to my knowledge, but I've come across plenty of users and even other IT folk who believe in astrology, acupuncture, ley lines, the magical goodness of natural ingredients, the healing power of crystals and goodness knows what else.
That being the case I'm not sure, tempting as it is, indulging in this sort of game is really wise. Isn't there a possibility that it renders them even more vulnerable to every nonsense spouting trickster and fraudster ringing up from a malign call centre?
Same AC here, I half disagree with the first para since the story had the overboard theatricals, not just some pseudo techno mumbo jumbo talking about magnets which people will often take as being the simplified but no less baffling explanation. Not disagreeing with the statement that some people believe some really weird shit but are few and far between
But agree with the second para because part of the job (even if not written) of a visiting engineer is to reduce the chances of a recurrence often simply by default by making a competent repair, sometimes by imparting some knowledge, and this stupid encouraging ignorance of the equipment or its operation is an immediate fail.
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