back to article PC rebooted every time user flushed the toilet

Welcome yet again to On-Call, The Register's weekly column in which we take readers' tales of odd jobs in odd places, tart them up and present them to you as a bit of light relief on a Friday. This week, meet “Gary”, who once had a trouble ticket land on his desk stating that “the PC would reset every time the customer flushed …

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Re: I read this story about 15 years ago..

"Modern bladder tanks are tiny."

Only if the system is designed & approved by idiots. I have a dozen systems with bladder tanks, the smallest is 50 gallons (22 gallon drawdown), the largest are 120 gallon (50 gallon drawdown).

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Re: I read this story about 15 years ago..

"Modern bladder tanks are tiny."

Only if the system is designed & approved by idiots

Have to agree, especially as the article indicated this was a farm environment. I've seen 200L+ (about 50gal I believe) amounts needed to be drawn before the pump has to engage, and a few places even more - especially if the pump is the only one on the farm. The idea is to have the pump start, run for a long while, then stop - which is much better for mechanical stuff than start.stop.start.stop.start.stop...

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TRT
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BBC Micro...

failed to boot, couldn't find anything wrong with it. Cold started it, discharged the PSU completely. Checked the voltages on the PSU. All good. Took it into the physics lab at school to look for a clock pulse with the oscilloscope. That was all there... still no joy. So I decided to pull the CPU out and look at the signals there, swap in a fresh CPU if needs be. Touched the top of the chip and got a small kick in the end of my finger. Tried again, and the machine came up straight away.

Took it back to my friend's house, and he plugged it back in and set it up again.

Next day, the same issue, no boot. So I went over on the way to school - he was on his HAM radio set when I called. The aerial lead ran right under the BBC, and there was a little bit more of a SWR reading than I would have expected. On closer inspection, the aerial cable was heavily kinked right where the computer had been sitting on it, and I don't know how, but a charge was building up on the surface of the CPU and jamming it.

Solution? A new lead for the aerial, a small sliver of kitchen foil glued to the top of the CPU with a lead running off to the motherboard ground, and a chicken wire Faraday cage around the BBC, monitor and diskette drive, just for good measure.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: BBC Micro...

In my early 20's I was involved with sending data over HF/VHF for the Army Cadet Force National Net.

Using a BBC Master and a PRC 320 man pack radio to send at a ridiculously slow speed to the central station at Blanford Camp.

The main problem was that we had the antenna tuned really well and running parallel to the building, so when we were transmitting, it made the landline phones in the building almost unusable and caused some problems with the BBC Master until we put a Faraday cage around the whole unit, including the CRT.

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As Dump hits the Sump, Pump leaves user resting on his Rump as PC Slumps

See title

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Anonymous Coward

'Gary now developed a hypothesis he described as follows: “When the toilet was flushed, the pump had to kick in to fill the tank and that when the motor kicked in, it had such a current draw because the brushes were probably worn out.” That current draw was what dimmed the lights and therefore disrupted power supply just enough to also trip the computer.'

I remember (back in my radical youth - back in the days when labour were completely unelectable because they were elf by a pensioner and supported leavign Europe, woudl probably unilaterally disarm and soak the rich) during the miner's strike that someone tried to start a campaign for everyone supporting the strike to flush their toilets at 6pm in the belief that this would cause a sudden surge in water usage trigger lots of pumps to switch on causes a power surge which would cause the national grid fail. Somehow I don't recall it working!

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I don't remember that one.

I do remember this one:

http://www.snopes.com/sports/football/flush.asp

A hoax, of course.

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Thumb Up

No PC involved

There is an interesting story about an old US prison where the inmates protested against their appalling conditions by flushing all toilets in the multistory building topdown on cue of the chimes of a local church which they all could hear. The resulting damage to the sewage system forced the authorities to move all prisoners to a better location.

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Mushroom

Ahhhh.... brings back memories on my time in a large IT company (name not mentioned to avoid lawsuits etc). We were facing a number of mysterious crashes in a cluster of hospitals around the Midlands. Patient systems running on top of Oracle 7 (remember that anyone?) were crashing and forcing DB admins to go into horrible recovery mode. Turns out an HW engineer who had not been properly trained would turn up to apply some minor fix to a running server, and simply press the big yellow button to switch it off, apply the fix, press the big yellow button to switch it back on, and leave before the howls of anguish reached his ears.

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" Turns out an HW engineer who had not been properly trained would turn up to apply some minor fix to a running server, and simply press the big yellow"

What sort of DBA would allow anyone, H/W engineer or other, anywhere near a running server without escorting them? Some people just don't have the requisite levels of paranoia.

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FAIL

Mouse not working on mousemat

Had a report form a site that all their mice had stopped working, Attended site after ordering a boot full of mice from stores. Checked the existing mice, no problems on the desk. However none of them worked on the mousemats. It turned out that they had replaced all the mouse mats with company branded mats, however the colour that they had choosen (red) ment that none of the mice worked

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Re: Mouse not working on mousemat

I came across one similar when I came across the first introduction of optical mice as an upgrade to the ball and wheel mouse predecessors. Turns out that the optical mice didn't like the glossy surfaces of the standard issue branded mouse mats which worked fine with ball mice. It was considered ironic that the workers that had the best working mice were either those with the dirtiest environments, as in their previous mice failed all the time due to the dirt or those that didn't toe the company line and had alternative mouse mats.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mouse not working on mousemat

> Had a report form a site that all their mice had stopped working

Had they been provided better food, industrial action could have been avoidable.

(site was a research lab, I assume?)

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Not a PC but...

We did the testing for optical transceivers in a seperate building and every so often they'd all start to fail at once. Wasn't a problem when they were tested in the main cleanroom. The culprit? Mobile phones, you'd be able to tell someone was about to receive a text message as the failures were almost exactly 20 seconds before someone got a message. Wasn't an issue in the cleanroom as mobile phones were banned within the testing area due to the sensitivity of the equipment. I recall one piece of kit in there had a 1 metre taped area around it and a big warning sign not to cross the taped line if you had a pace-maker

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not a PC but...

I was once showing two VIPs round where I worked at the time and had been told to show them everything which included the racks of equipment in the server room, engineering spaces etc. So I was all in full tour guide mode and at my most enthusiastic when we reached the first security door. I said to them and said you either need to leave your phones here (a small shelf was provided) or turn them off. This was also written on a large yellow sign on the door but I made a point of checking that they understood. One of them was happy to comply and switched hers off immediately. The other was incensed by this and pointed out that I was just being difficult. I said that I wasn't "Just being difficult" I was following the correct procedures and If he didn't like it he could wait outside. He was very unhappy about this muttered about being a VIP and I indicated that the phone on the wall could be used to contact whichever manager had set the tour up. He called them and then after a brief discussion rather red faced apologised to me took his phone out and switched it off in full view.

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Re: Not a PC but...

The best part of 2G text messages is that you could hear them on any unshielded speaker, a couple seconds before your phone figured out that it had something to show you. The pattern was extremely distinct.

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Re: Not a PC but...

One of my ex colleagues has a hearing aid and could hear when the phone was going to beep before it did through his aid. He would predict receiving text messages as a party trick and it occasionally freaked people out.

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Re: Not a PC but...

dit-da-dit, dit-da-dit :)

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Re: Not a PC but...

Hardcore nerds might appreciate

http://www.windytan.com/2013/01/the-gsm-buzz.html

That "warning of incoming call" is a consequence of the combination of the GSM standard and electronics that were not designed to assume such a RF-noisy source would normally be present.

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Anonymous Coward

also showed some VIPs round the lab

we had a malware experiment happening in the doubly shielded indoor tent, based on OpenBTS, and was a sort-of IMSI-catcher with an amusing network name.

er. . . somehow the 10 milliwhats of GSM leaked out an' pranked one of the VIP's phones, who just happened to be the president of the national data protection authority, I think our explanations & grovelling lasted about a week

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Meh

Re: Not a PC but...

Back in the days when our company had Blackberries, when a mass meeting was called, the first announcement over the PA in the room was to have everyone turn off their Blackberries. Not for the disruption, but because the audio gear would pick up the poorly-shielded CPUs with several hundred of these devices 'broadcasting' in the meeting room.

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When I read the headline, I thought dodgy mascerator pump, so wasn't too far away.

I've seen dodgy motors cause issues with PC's and networking before.

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Power problems

Had a similar problem, but in this case the system, a VAX 11/725, went down hard around 17:30, once or twice a week. Obvious suspect: cleaners. Considered improbable, because the system was in a recess, the power strip and the wall socket were behind the system requiring some serious gymnastics to reach them, and there was a power socket in plain view on the wall to one side of the recess. The console printer just showed the usual logging chatter, cutting off suddenly, then the power-up sequence the next morning as someone came in finding the system being down.

Initial diagnostics pointed to airflow problems, and over the next few weeks all of the associated components and wiring were replaced, with finally the entire system being carted off to Repair, to be stripped down, cleaned and reassembled. With any even slightly suspicious parts and harnesses being replaced again. A temporary replacement was installed which ran fine for the entire time it was in use. The original system, which must have been the cleanest 11/725 in EMEA, also ran flawlessly under test. In the meantime the mains supply at the customer had been monitored for spikes, brownouts and noise, as there was a manufacturing hall next to the office, with packing machinery being constructed and tested. That didn't yield anything either.

Moving the system back to the customer, same problem again.

So a colleague decided to go and see what the hell was going on; unfortunately I was off for a training course. He sat there waiting for the cleaners to come in and do their thing. One plugged in the vacuum, in the appropriate socket. The other went to take the waste bag from the document shredder, tied it closed and put it down. Right in front of the air intake for the system. Which duly experienced an airflow problem and switched off.

The temporary replacement system, although being technically the same (an 11/730), had a different enclosure and didn't mind plastic bags being put right against it.

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Re: Power problems

"Right in front of the air intake for the system. Which duly experienced an airflow problem and switched off."

There's a similar story about one of the very old (washing machine size) hard drives and a cleaner who discovered that if you put the dustpan under the front ledge it would be automatically emptied for him.

Of course _WHY_ you would let cleaners into your data centre/server room is beyond me. We certainly don't and I've made a point of banning them from any technical areas containing racking. Techs don't kick up much dust and if they're tasked with cleaning up they make sure than things don't get broken.

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Re: Power problems

"Of course _WHY_ you would let cleaners into your data centre/server room is beyond me."

The "why" is easy. It's their job to clean the place, floor to ceiling, board room to bog, watering plants, replacing dead light bulbs & emptying the trash in their wake. The modern world wouldn't run without janitorial staff. Extending this to include the labs that evolved into computer centers in the 1950s wasn't even thought about, it just happened.

Janitorial staff having the keys to the entire kingdom (as it were) was the norm until we in the glass room started putting our collective foot down in the late 1970s/early 1980s. It wasn't until the late 1980s that it became uncommon. By the late 1990s it was as rare as hen's teeth. The last time I witnessed a janitor coming unannounced into a data center "in the wee hours" at a place I was consulting for was 2005 ...

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Re: cleaning staff at computer centres

... always remind me of Hot Millions (trailer), writeup on Jimbopedia.

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Re: Power problems

Of course _WHY_ you would let cleaners into your data centre/server room is beyond me.

In this case, the system was in one of the office areas[0]. Hence the presence of a paper shredder close to it.

[0] The 11/725 was essentially an 11/730 with an 'office-friendly' enclosure. Subsequent office-friendly enclosures, like for the mVAX 2 had a more office-friendly airflow layout.

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The broken projector

My personal favourite and I used it as an interview question for years after.

Back in 2000 l worked as IT bod in a typical little gov.uk place, lovely staff and a joy to support.

Got a call from top floor, big meeting, projector not focusing, tried everything, help!

Sensing panic we sent up our pfy, five minutes later HELP ! Big guest just arrived, projector still bad.

Sent our junior bofh, no joy, big guest now grumbling.

Grabbed spare projector and ran upstairs, then removed red hot lens cover and quietly left the room.

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Re: The broken projector

junior BOFH need to be downgraded to junior PFY...

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Re: The broken projector

"junior BOFH need to be downgraded to junior PFY..."

Unless he stuck it on there in the first place and you just undermined his whole plan to set everyone in the room on fire :)

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Joke

Nice to see someone doing a comprehensive fault-find....

...rather than just going through the motions.....

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Anonymous Coward

Floppy drives not wotking.

OK, so mid 90's I was doing onsite repair for homes and business' for a big computer retailer in Dublin.

I had a call to go and replace a floppy drive. Went out and tested the drive, it worked, but the customer said it was intermittent, so I replaced the drive anyway, tested it, it worked fine. Took the replaced unit back to store, plugged it in to a test machine and it worked fine, so boxed it, labeled it as used working and sent it back to the parts dept.

A week later I got a call (different customer) with the same problem. Went out with another replacement drive and again the customer said it was intermittent. Tested the drive and it indeed didn't work but it wasn't that the drive didn't work it was that the BIOS on boot didn't detect the drive.

So, replaced the drive unit and it wouldn't see the new drive. MB failure then maybe? Had one of those for the same machine out in the car, so brought that in and started unplugging everything to disassemble and had a brief idea to test again with nothing but the monitor, keyboard and mouse attached.

Drive worked fine. WTF?

Plugged the printer and scanner back in. Rebooted, drive didn't get detected by the BIOS.

Now I start thinking about the other customer. What make and model was his machine? Pulled out my Nokia and phoned Customer Care line to get the details of the other customers machine. At this point the current customer walks in to the room and freaks the fuck out and runs out of the house. Another WTF moment. Got the details and find that both customers have the same all in package of computer, printer and scanner.

OK now, for some reason, I decided to power up the scanner before booting the PC.. lo and behold, drive works, reboot with scanner powered off (but still connected), drive doesn't work. Suddenly it all becomes clear.

If this particular machine has its packaged scanner connected but not powered up on boot the BIOS would not find the FDD.

Found the customer outside the house and explained the problem and to just keep the scanner on when booting while we worked on a better fix (how this wasn't found in testing the package before it went to market I don't know).

He apologised for running out of the house when he seen me on the phone and explained that he had a phobia of phones which also explained why I couldn't contact him that morning to let him know when I'd be arriving. That was another WTF?

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LDS
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"explained that he had a phobia of phones"

I wonder how he could live nowadays...

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Coat

Re: Floppy drives not wotking.

...and explained that he had a phobia of phones... That was another WTF?

If you met my ex-missus you'd understand that perfectly well..

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Fixing a dead mainframe by listening to it over the phone

Way back in the early 80's I worked in the support centre for a large British Computer manufacturer.

I got a call from a site saying that the machine wouldn't load, and that they hadn't changed anything.

Although they did get a printer dump, it was particularly useless, as the only error it contained was KEVM_LAST_USER_OF_GLOBAL_EVENT, which meant that the main VM had failed, of course any stack frame revealing the cause of the error would have long been overwritten.

The processor they were using had a speaker which clicked on every CALL instruction resulting in various levels of noise mixed with gently descending tones. I asked them to reload the machine, and to put the telephone next to the speaker so I could hear the processor rebooting.

After hearing the load I gave them a list of load options, and the machine loaded. They thought I was a genius.

All I did was to notice that the load had almost completed before it failed, and I told them to switch off the last few load options.

Turned out to be a failure in the floating point unit, which caused the VM to crash, but the only option to use floating point in the load sequence was a hardware monitoring stats package.

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????

I live in a farmhouse in France which is at the end of a long line of overhead three phase. When the kettle goes on, the power drops from around 225V to about 190V. The water pump (2kW) kicking in makes the lights flicker. Shall I go on? Let's just say sometimes the LED light in my lamp starts acting weird due to the lack of power...

My Pi doesn't reboot, neither does my PC. Nor the router. Nor the NAS. Nor.........

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TRT
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Re: ????

I would NOT trust the French with mains voltage electrics. La Cie, anyone?

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Re: ????

Yes, modern switchmode PSU's are pretty good at dealing with any voltage you throw at them, including wildly varying mains. Even the cheap disposable ones.

When my last UPS died more than a decade ago PC PSUs had improved enough to handle the brownouts and the short breaks I'd bought it for by themselves.

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Re: ????

" modern switchmode PSU's are pretty good at dealing with any voltage you throw at them, including wildly varying mains."

"That depends" - there are 85-260V ones and 220V or 115V fixed voltage ones which are far less tolerant of "fun" shit on the input.

The fixed voltage ones are a few dollars cheaper. Guess what virtually every computer in outer Bumfuckistan (where the nominal 230V has been known to drop as low as 95V for prolonged periods) is fitted with?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular electrical items to be sold there are power delay timers (10 seconds to 10 minutes after the power comes on, it's finally switched back on to the appliance, to ensure it's on solidly on and not going to drop out again - except the collective cross-area *thunk* of the 10 minute timers switching in large loads like ACs and fridges usually causes another brownout....) and "Voltage regulators" - which are basically autotransformers with self-setting motor-controlled output in their original form and yes, that's as dangerous as it sounds. More modern ones tend to use Triac-selectable transformer taps which is still dangerous. Of course the collective effect of all those devices sucking more and more current as the voltage decreases (P=IV remember) means that brownouts get worse and occasionally house supply wiring catches fire (as does the distribution system from time to time).

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Anonymous Coward

Replaced the pump

Hopefully the new pump has replaceable brushes, so next time they won't have to junk the whole unit just because the brushes are worn out.

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Re: Replaced the pump

An old pump's more likely to have replaceable bushes than a new one. Modern kit's built for replacement not maintenance or repair.

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Re: Replaced the pump

Do your homework. If you plan on owning said pump for any length of time, get one that is rebuildable. Might cost a little more at the outset, but over the long haul it'll save you a lot of money. Here in the US, Grainger's is your friend ... I also use Palo Alto Electric Motor. PAEM will do the pump rebuild for you, but they are equally happy to sell you the parts to fix it yourself. Both do mail order, and are recommended. Not an owner or an employee, just a happy customer of both for well over 40 years.

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Anonymous Coward

It's been 5 years since the big disaster at RBS

Time to talk about what really happened?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's been 5 years since the big disaster at RBS

I lost my contract for saying too much at the time, aint gonna go down that road again.

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Re: It's been 5 years since the big disaster at RBS

Well I posted something on my facebook the morning after it first happened, telling my friends we'd get it sorted ASAP

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Troubleshooting networking issues...

at a relative's. Nice hot summer days, his network (multiple routers and hubs, lots of devices), set up a couple years before, would intermittently drop out, or simply lose packets for a few seconds. Was driving us all nuts.

I started plugging my laptop into various hubs/routers and running hour-long ping sessions to other machines. Finally found two connections between hubs that were the issue. Pulled out the network plugs and took a REALLY good look.

Turns out, in each case, he had made the cables himself and one wire hadn't quite gotten all the way to the end of the plug. When it got hot enough (one of these was in an attic area!), the dodgy connection between the pin and the conductor would shift just enough to drop out. Recrimped two plugs, and everything's been fine since.

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Anonymous Coward

POS terminal at a garden centre would lose power and reboot itself without warning. We determined it happened every time they used their 20W VHF radio which was nearby.

Turned out the very long unshielded power cable used to cross the yard from the socket to the terminal was exactly the same length as the frequency used and something? happened when a message was sent enough to send the Bird RF meter crazy when we connected it.

Ended up digging a channel in the floor for a pipe and running the cable through it which worked a treat.

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That's the best story about computers and shit happening I have ever heard! Thanks. ROFLMAO! :-)

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Voltmeter

Whoever thought you'd need a voltmeter to diagnose an electrical fault.

NOBODY THATS WHO.

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Happy

BBC B

That reminded me.

Mate told me the disk drive wasn't working, so I asked him to check both cables were properly plugged in. "Yes." He said "I can see the light is on so it must be trying to do something."

I'd seen this so often I just told him to unplug the 'wide' cable, turn it over and plug it in again, to be greeted by "Oh, I didn't know it mattered".

A lot of cheap plugs had no bump, just the slots on the other side. The sockets on the Beebs only looked for the bump.

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