back to article Four techies flummoxed for hours by flickering 'E' on monitor

Salutations dear readers, and congratulations on reaching the last working day of the week, on which The Register runs On-Call, our reader-contributed tales of gigs that get you giggling. This week, meet “Sonny”, who told us of his first job as a System Engineer with a local IBM PC reseller, in the early 1980s. Or as Sonny …

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Re: Laboratory waterbath

In the EU those regulations pre-date Cat 3, so it is not possible to be "grandfathered" in.

Mid 1950s or so, incorporated into EU regs in the 80s.

Any install not following them is simply dangerous - whether it actually works is irrelevant.

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CRT vs Magnetic desk toy

On one callout, many years ago, I had to go see a user who reported that the one side of their monitor was all blurred and distorted.

This was back in the day when we still had clunky CRT monitors and sure enough, when I got there his right hand side of his display was distorted to an alarming degree. Now this was just before Christmas, and I noticed that on his desk, next to the monitor, was the still wrapped secret Santa present he’d been given that morning. With his permission, I picked up the pressie and moved it away, bingo! His display reverted to normal.

I was explaining it was probably due to a magnet in the present when the girl sitting next to him sheepishly admitted that not only was she his secret Santa, but that it was one of those magnetic desk toys that were popular at the time.

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Found a tape in our ZX Spectrum collection that we didn't know what it was.

Put it into the tape deck, played it into the Spectrum. Spectrum caught the loader, even gave us a program name, gave us the loading bars, tried to load. Would never succeed, though.

Was just going to throw it in the bin, but by accident pulled out the earphone cable from the tape player.

Turns out, it was my brother and I messing about with the tape recorder downstairs while - in the background - dad was trying to load Nonterraqueous into the Spectrum.

Just the background noise of the loading tones, behind us recording all kinds of nonsense and fake news reports, etc., was enough for the Speccy to be convinced it heard a leader and try to load the game.

I always wondered if - if you were able to clean up the signal enough - you'd actually be able to load the game from that historical recording.

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"I always wondered if - if you were able to clean up the signal enough - you'd actually be able to load the game from that historical recording."

Yes, and then you'd be arrested for copyright infringement and fined a million pounds.

"You wouldn't steal a handbag. You wouldn't steal a car. You wouldn't leave a tape recorder running whilst someone loaded a game into a spectrum across the other side of the room. PIRACY IS THEFT"

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"You wouldn't steal a handbag. You wouldn't steal a car."

During his youth a mate of mine certainly made sure that such things never quite worked on him..

Though why he was stealing handbags we never did work out, nor dare to enquire.

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Also, light bulbs

There was a house in Scotland where the light bulbs kept blowing. The mains voltage tested quite normal, there was no evidence of heavy surges or brownouts. There was no correlation with thunderstorms in the area. But eventually someone got suspicious and connected a loop coil to a scope.

How does the MOD communicate with submarines? On such a low frequency that if you happen to have a house in the way it can induce significant voltages in the wiring.

The MOD of course refused to admit that there was any such thing in the area, but oscilloscopes ignore the Official Secrets Act.

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Re: Also, light bulbs

but oscilloscopes ignore the Official Secrets Act.

So we can look forward to all lab equipment being banned on the basis that they can be used to break the OSA?

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Alien

Re: Also, light bulbs

"On such a low frequency that if you happen to have a house in the way it can induce significant voltages in the wiring."

Wasn't that an 'X-Files' episode? Except the people went crazy or exploded?

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Re: Also, light bulbs

"So we can look forward to all lab equipment being banned on the basis that they can be used to break the OSA?"

I was thinking more of Turnbull's claim that the laws of Australia trumped[stet] mere mathematics.

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Coat

Re: Also, light bulbs

@Lord_Beavis "Wasn't that an 'X-Files' episode? Except the people went crazy or exploded?"

You'll have to be more specific, people going crazy or exploding was every X-Files episode.

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Re: Also, light bulbs

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthorn_Radio_Station

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Minor correction 3270

The 3270 was not a mainframe, it was the terminal used to access mainframes. Hence the IRMA was a 3270 emulator. Pedant mode off :)

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Re: Minor correction 3270

IRMA cards... oh the luxury of being able to run a resizable 3270 terminal in Windows 3.11... and the same "if it's not working, plug the coax into one that is working, then plug it back into the one that wasn't" troubleshooting technique worked just fine... plus I had a lot more desk space for large piles of fanfold printer paper.

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Another microwave story

In the 1970s we heard a story from our IBM engineer. Their computers at North Harbour would all crash at the same time every day to much puzzlement of the engineers.

It turned out that a Royal Navy radar establishment nearby was testing an experimental new radar, guess what, at the same time every day the machines were crashing. The engineer told how the microwaves were affecting the conductivity of the air allowing shorting to take place.

From what I heard, they had to install Faraday cages around the site to prevent the crashes.

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Pint

Re: Another microwave story

"the microwaves were affecting the conductivity of the air"

I doubt that non-ionising radiation can directly affect the conductivity of the air much. More like it, is that something metal and pointy is receiving the microwave signal like an antenna and making enough electric field to exceed the air's dielectric breakdown and make plasma at the tips. Like a fork in a microwave oven. Which reminds me, it's lunchtime.

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Re: Another microwave story

When those new-fangled Walkman thingies came out I was working in Portsmouth Dockyard. If I was wearing the earphones I'd get a repeated "ziiiiip" going through my head when I turned a certain corner - you could predict the interval by watching the radar turning. There was also an apocryphal story about a fitter falling asleep in HMS Victorious's huge bin-shaped radar (long before I worked there - just saying) - and then it was turned on.....

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Re: Another microwave story

I took some lovely video of a T42 when we were doing deck landing training on it. Only slightly ruined by the burst of static on the recording every time the 1022 radar was pointed at us.

Re the fitter and Victorious's radar, there was a similar story about someone standing in front of the 909 Fire Control radar on a T42 and suffering a grisly fate. I'm assuming it was to scare people into following the correct procedure for going on the roof...

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Re: Another microwave story

I worked for IBM in Feltham for a while. The Heathrow high-intensity landing radar used to crash the small on-site mainframe until it was moved into a shielded room.

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Re: Another microwave story

Like a fork in a microwave oven.

Or a CD[1]. Allegedly. Any smell of burnt plastic and ionised CD recording layer in my kitchen was pure coincidence. Honestly..

[1] Not one of the dye-based ones - a proper metalised-substrate one. Any pop-CD would be suitable and have the bonus effect of increasing the cultural value of society if destroyed.

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Re: Another microwave story

You can see this effect in VT from the Falklands conflict. Pictures from Devonport - fine; pictures from Ascension Island - fine; but half way down the South Atlantic when the FC radars were turned on, there's a burst of static sweeping down the frames every 2s or so.

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Re: I worked for IBM in Feltham for a while.

The Heathrow high-intensity landing radar used to crash the small on-site mainframe until it was moved into a shielded room.

Why on earth would anyone put their radar in a shielded room?

This sort of idiocy is why Britannia doesn't rule the microwaves.

Fought them on the beaches, rationing, thrashing's too good, etc, more etc.

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Facepalm

Re: Another microwave story

In the late 70s I used to visit one of our company's mainframe sites, in an industrial unit which backed onto the West Coast Main Line about a mile north of Euston.

The side of the building facing the railway had to be covered with mesh to cope with the EMF induced by the passing trains.

The door of the fire exit had to be metal-covered too, though anyone using it was directly in line to be clobbered by the 10:34.

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Anonymous Coward

Not so bad but

I recall a computer with a Matrox 3D accelerator card. There was a whole faff of installing drivers in the right order or it wouldn't be recognised. I don't remember the details but I sold the computer to a friend after spending an entire night scratch rebuild with everything installed (in the right order). 2 days hence he called be to say he had been fiddling in the registry to "speed it up" and nothing worked any more. I have no idea why a build only 2 days old required that sort of fiddling - he wasn't even a techy - grr

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Happy

Re: Not so bad but

Ah, the old user response, "Yeah, but all I did was...".

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Re: Not so bad but

Ah, the old user response, "Yeah, but all I did was...".

Or (one I had in my DOS-herding days): "But I don't even know how to delete all the files from the C drive".

As offered by someone who had dropped he (non-working) DOS 5/Win 3.11 computer off with us..

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Re: Not so bad but

Or "I didn't do ANYTHING!"

And they didn't. Except to apply user-forbidden software (Norton Utilities) to bugger around with HD's FAT for no particular reason.

"You lost your files? Oh, too bad! Well, let me...help you." Evil laughter as I switch on the cattle prod.

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Happy

Flickering CRT near LHR

Back in 97-98, I worked in a company next to Heathrow's north runway. We in IT used to sneak up to the un-used 3rd floor to experience Concorde take off. One day, one of the users starts to complain about a random screen flicker. This was not the big spinny "23cm (brilliant!)" RADAR at LHR, but the mobile phone the user had plonked on top of the Compaq desktop's case. Each time it called back to the cell to confirm it was still alive, the CRT would go nuts. Users were then told to keep their phones away from their screens.

Of course, the old fun was to walk into a room full of CRTs and spin the lump of disk drive magnets around in my pocket. "My screen's going all funny colours!" never got tired!

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I've seen some horrendous glitches caused on satellite feeds by cheap/knackered microwaves in the office kitchen.

We eventually moved the dish further down the wall (and away from the kitchen)... And since the requisition request for gonad shields was declined, we tend not to go into the kitchen if someone is using the microwave!

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Microwave Ovens?

This seems like the point to mention perytons...

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Also Standby Generators

Like the once per month “magic corruption" of analogue radar recording tapes ion a system I designed – only to discover behind the wall on which the shelf the tapes were stored on was the company's huge stand-by generator which was test started – you guessed it - once per month!!

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Anonymous Coward

Joysticks!

My boss of the time (long ago) phoned me up one weekend to tell me he'd bought a joystick and adapter card and he wanted it fitting in his office PS/2 for his "son"...

I asked him if it was a MicroChannel or ISA adapter card (I was young and optimistic in those days)... I then proceeded to describe the two connectors so he could tell me which one it was...

Turned out it was an ISA card so I didn't have to spend my weekend getting his office gaming PC to work!

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RFI-directional-radar-tastic-EMC!

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Orv
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CRT monitors' own deflection coil fields could interact in funny ways, producing odd squirming and shimmering. I had one or two issues where large monitors on opposite sides of the same cubical wall would destabilize each other.

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Right....

Ok I'm telling this as it involves early comms and 'interference'. In a former life I was a roadie for well known band in the '80's. Round about '84 the management bought a couple of Tandy 100 laptops for the office and we also had Telecom Gold 'email' accounts. I can't remember too much about this but it was someone we knew had started up this service. So told the band I should have this too.

So I was duly supplied with a Tandy 100 ( 8 x 32 lines of text!!) and an acoustic modem. A 300 baud acoustic modem. (For younger viewers this was a device which you connected to the laptop and squeezed the phone handset into the rubber cups. Yes, Acoustic. Making any sort of connection involved a list of commands and characters to entered at the appropriate moment.)

All was well until we went to the Caribbean island of Monserrat to record an album. We'd got all the new codes to connect (a nightmare in itself) but every time we tried to connect the connection would drop, sometimes immediately sometimes after a few minutes.The island had a very small population so we asked one of the studio techs to ask around to see if there was a way of getting a better line (assuming it was problem). After a couple of day he came back laughing. Apparently, the operator at the phone exchange who was patching the calls would hear the squealing tones of the modem and think there was a problem an pull the plug on the connection...

The there was the resident who owned the only TV satellite dish on the island. He shared his connection but it meant you could only watch what he watched...

Happy days!!

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Bah!

The "engineers should have figured out in a heartbeat that:

a) The window seat was worth keeping and so a shielding solution was ideal.

2) Moving the user as a solution to an EMR issue is so typically "IT Clueless" as to perpetuate the idiom in this site.

$) Everyone owed the bloke who saw the radar and understood the implications a beer.

?) The department needed an EMR scanner soonest.

Nice story. Believable and entertaining. Should have won a T Shirt.

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Similar supposedly crashed server at SYD

Heard from an IBM engineer who claimed to have been there, that there was server that would not boot. It would crash at some random time with a few seconds. Everything replaced, until engineer looking out of window noticed it would crash when the radar dish was pointing at the building.

I heard the story whilst working for a QANGO in the city (between 1983 & 86) as it was the reason for an interesting test . When the recently removed monorail was being built, it was at the same level as the mainframe room. As part of the testing, all load was shed from the mainframe, but it was on, and the monorail repeatedly passed with driver continually on the radio and numerous 'fake' jobs were run, no issues were found .

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"connecting their PS/2 desktops to the company 3270 mainframe"

3270 was not the mainframe type. This is the terminal type. The mainframe was probably from IBM's System/370 range, not necessarily with an IBM logo. The company I worked for in those days upgraded from a 4381 to a Hitachi machine, and as it was a Japanese box, it was nicknamed the rice boiler.

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Re: I still have my folks' Atari Video Pinball machine

I still have TWO Vectrex vector graphics video game machines. I have a full set of cartridges and overlay screens as well as a fully working 3-D helmet and extra keyboards.

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FAIL

Major Fail with very sensitive equipment

Once upon a time I used to do some work at the British Columbia Loran-C Master navigation station. I had dropped in to calibrate my GHZ frequency counter on the triple atomic clock system. While I was there they decided to run a test on the new fire suppression system. That system was a fair number of Halon cylinders on the walls just below the ceiling tiles.

I stepped out of the main control room into the entrance space, fortunately.

Countdown and then the GAS BLAST for a few seconds.

It blew every single ceiling tile out of the ceiling in most of the station. They fell on everything including the atomic clock system. I was very lucky that it did not damage my counter. It nearly broke some of the protection windows on the very high power transmitter amplifiers which had tubes/valves the size of 1 gallon glass containers.

The station manager was just standing there with a very interesting expression on his face. I had finished the calibration so I picked up enough of the tiles to clear a way to retrieve my counter.

What a total mess. Stacks of papers and system logs everywhere. Many things knocked off the tables and desks. Looking at the Halon cylinders they were all aimed up, not down.

Simple mistakes can really matter...

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Still happens

The navigation system in my 2007 Audi A3 used to reboot every time I drove under an airplane leaving SJC. Radar is scary powerful. Some large doppler weather systems on mountain peaks have warnings that you'll be injured if you get in the scanning path. (I'm guessing the injury is becoming disoriented then falling 30 feet off whatever you used to get in the path)

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moved the PC back to its original location

Later, she gave birth to a two-headed sheep.

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Similar thing

An old IBM sysadmin told me a very similar tale few years ago, only happening in Italy.

The protagonist was a brand new IBM mainframe that refused to boot up: it started, but a few seconds in, it blinked out before accomplishing anything.

After a lot of head scratching, a guy watching out of the window recognized the timing of resets was the same as the military airport radar not far from the building.

Mutating legend? Common event? Who knows?

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"the company 3270 mainframe.”

No, no, no, failure of concept here.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Give the user a medal for moving back with a shield.

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Anonymous Coward

IRQ

Sheesh, all these tales of horrible IRQ settings and the like from the distant past just remind the rest of us who were around at the time how much easier and better we had things with our Macs and Amigas, wondering how on earth those DOS boxes could ever possibly become popular...

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