back to article Fresh cotton underpants fix series of mysterious mainframe crashes

Hello Friday! And hello, therefore, to On-Call, The Register's regular column in which readers explain how they were sent out into user-land to do odd things and returned triumphant, frustrated or smugly satisfied. This week, meet “Ben” who wrote to tell us that he once ran support for “a small mainframe manufacturer.” Among …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Ben conducted further investigation and learned that his colleague's dress was polyester dress."

    Surely a moment calling for supreme delicacy and tact?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Trollface

      ['puter says]

      There ain't room for both of us. Either she goes, or I do.

    2. wolfetone Silver badge
      Coat

      "Surely a moment calling for supreme delicacy and tact?"

      Quite right. I'm sure he didn't open with "You know, that dress would look better on my bedroom floor. Because I don't have servers in my bedroom with anti-static protection on them."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Angel

        @wolfetone

        "Because I don't have servers in my bedroom with anti-static protection on them."

        What kind of sysop is that???

        1. wolfetone Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: @wolfetone

          "What kind of sysop is that???"

          A sysop that gets laid.

          1. Marshalltown

            Re: @wolfetone

            Reply Icon

            Re: @wolfetone

            "What kind of sysop is that???"

            A sysop that gets laid.

            Yeah, but WHAT KIND OF SYSOP get's laid?

    3. Jedit
      Angel

      "Surely a moment calling for supreme delicacy and tact?"

      Perhaps not supreme delicacy. That was presumably required shortly after, as the writer implies that enquiries were also made into the nature of the lady's underwear.

    4. chivo243 Silver badge
      Devil

      Just this week, an office received new furniture, and we had to re-cable the desks etc while people were working. I advised one of the ladies wearing a nice summery dress that pants would be a good idea the next day as I would be working at the desk across from her ;-}

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        One of our desktop guys set a password to reset daily, just so he had an excuse to check her network connection which was below her desk.

        She had great legs and short skirts.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Joke

          gynecologist on his lunch hour

          and with all of this, I'd almost expect someone to pop up from under a desk and make the claim "It's ok, I'm a gynecologist. I'm on my lunch hour."

          (as in 'where's the Monty Python angle')

      2. phuzz Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        "I advised one of the ladies wearing a nice summery dress that pants would be a good idea"

        Can we just clarify, by pants do you mean trousers, or underwear?

        1. chivo243 Silver badge
          Headmaster

          @phuzz +1

          My oversight! trousers, pantalons, britches, spijkerbroek, jeans - well yes... The idea that she might be au natural hadn't crossed my mind, but now when I see her... what were we talking about again?

          1. RW

            Not au natural. "Au naturel" is correct. "Au naturale" is incorrect. But none is quite right.

            "Commando" is the word meaning clothed without wearing underwear. There is the implication that underwear doesn't show if you are dressed, which is not always true.

            Drawback: "Commando" may be too male a word to be used for a woman as it's connected somehow with the concept of letting the boys hang free.

            1. Curtis

              re: Commando?

              The first time I heard it, it was from a female co-irker (who later that night offered to show me what she meant)

    5. G2
      Paris Hilton

      that female was probably so hot that the server was literally blowing its load whenever she walked by.

      =)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        ...and somehow we wonder why there aren't more women in tech. :-)

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Is Ben's surname Dover by any chance?

  2. DougS Silver badge

    Humidity control

    Aren't computer rooms typically humidified in dry climates to avoid unwanted static discharges? Any moving part (fans, etc.) can create static discharges in dry air.

    1. Gordon Pryra
      Pirate

      Re: Humidity control

      We are talking about old mainframes here, even 10 years ago data centers were generally just "rooms with computers", 20 years ago and i can remember being able to smoke whilst fixing issues with NT4 webservers,

      Further back in time, things get even less controlled

      (Pirate icon cos there is no icon for unregulated cowboy controls)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Humidity control

        Smoking in the data center? That's a terminal offense, no questions asked. This has been true since the late 1960s that I am personally aware of.

        Oh. Windows. That's OK, it's just a toy.

        1. Steve Kellett

          Re: Humidity control

          Long enough ago and far enough away that I can remove anonymity from the guilty...

          It would have been in about 1984 and the place was the head office of a company called Locamion in Lyons, France. Back in those days smoking in France was more or less compulsory, and the atmosphere in the office was pretty much opaque. This much was expected, but when I went into their machine room I discovered an unusual modification had been made to the MDS disk drives[1]. Ash trays had been added so that they could convince the operators to remove their cigs from their mouths for the time taken to switch disk packs. That stopped them getting fag ash on the platters and thus reduced the frequency of head crashes.

          Otherwise the room was climate controlled and had temperature and humidity tracking, just like all the others. In fact the "Computer Room" used to be the one place you could escape summer heat and pollen.

          1) Huge washing machine sized contraptions with on exchangeable disk drive at the top (6 platter 18" diameter beasts with 60MB capacity) and a 640MB non-exchangeable drive at the bottom.

          1. Wensleydale Cheese

            Il est formellement interdit de fumer

            "Back in those days smoking in France was more or less compulsory..."

            That statement, dear readers, is no exaggeration.

            I bought some "Il est formellement interdit de fumer" (Smoking strictly forbidden) signs for a customer computer room. The thought never occurred to them, and this was a very large company who should have known better.

        2. boltar Silver badge

          Re: Humidity control

          "Smoking in the data center? That's a terminal offense"

          Would that be a vt100 type offense or a wyse 60?

          1. Down not across Silver badge

            Re: Humidity control

            Would that be a vt100 type offense or a wyse 60?

            ADM-3A

        3. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: Humidity control

          smoking in the office building PERIOD should be a terminal offense. (thankfully that hasn't been in any office I work in since the very early 90's)

          But at the very least, if it were NOT outright banned throughout the building, by keeping that crap out of the data center, it would give me a reason to move my workstation in there. Just wear hearing protection, no need for a phone, right next to the machine if I had to do something with it, etc. and nobody would bother me.

        4. Updraft102 Silver badge

          Re: Humidity control

          "Smoking in the data center? That's a terminal offense, no questions asked."

          I understand the problem and I personally think smoking is beyond disgusting, but summary execution of the offender does seem a little bit excessive.

          1. Curtis

            Re: Humidity control

            No. It's not. I used to smoke (switched to vaping) and cleaned the inside of my PC at least quarterly. This meant a full strip down, wiping down the board with 91% and qtips, cleaning all the fans and heatsinks, etc. A complete environment clean.

            All this stemmed from a position at a company that had to replace the payroll computer at least yearly, because the elderly lady working on it chain smoked. Computers can die of smoke inhalation.

      2. Esme

        Re: Humidity control

        @Gordon Pyra - interesting to hear you say that about how firms look after their kit. My first proper job was as a mainframe operator for SERC nearly 40 years ago now - the computer room had aircon (indeed, me and my team leader used sign language to communicate from one end of the compuer room to the other, the aircon was so noisy). Following that, I worked for Fedex on their mainframes - also in an airconditioned room. Twent years ago, and I was working for the local council, NOT in IT , but their equipment was in an air-conditioned room.

        My impression has been that all companies keep their IT gear nice and cool, even if they don't care if their staff fry!

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: Humidity control

          They ran out of budget to put the aircon in our local PC IT room for the college... and so the PCs all fried... and the students!

        2. Marshalltown
          Pint

          Re: Humidity control

          Heh. That reminds me of a job on an archaeological expedition in Israel in the late 1990s. The project laboratory and analytical facility was headquartered at a kibbutz. The older kibbutz architecture was big on windows and really weak on staying actually cool. We had a computer room with a window mounted air conditioner which we kept set to "Arctic." The locals asked why we kept the room so cold and we just said the computers couldn't take the heat.

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: Humidity control

        even 10 years ago data centers were generally just "rooms with computers",

        I take it you've never been in a proper mainframe server room? 30 (ish) years ago I worked for a company that had several big 3090 units and *everything* was set up to keep them happy..

        and i can remember being able to smoke whilst fixing issues with NT4 webservers

        I'm glad I didn't work where you did. Smoking has been banned in every server room I've ever worked in.

        1. J P
          Stop

          Re: Humidity control

          As a young lad* I was taken around Daddy's offices. Daddy wrote operating systems for IBM mainframes, and the computers** were kept in a custom built glass cube on the side of the Georgian mansion they'd bought as offices. In addition to the aircon, Halon systems etc I clearly remember being told about how we had to go through an airlock because they also maintained an artificial air pressure differential between the computer room and the outside world. So no, not really just "a room with computers".

          *Some decades. Shoulder pads were in, as was (just) Margaret Thatcher. Still hadn't heard of the Falklands though.

          *I was 8. I don't remember model numbers etc. They were big boxes with glass lids.

          1. RW

            Re: Humidity control

            "big boxes with glass lids"

            Maybe IBM 2314 disk drives. Removable disk packs.

      4. boltar Silver badge

        Re: Humidity control

        "even 10 years ago data centers were generally just "rooms with computers"

        10 years ago? Try right now. Our "server room" doubles as the staff rec room! The rack is behind a

        partition not far from the fridge and microwave. No, I'm not making this up.

      5. PM from Hell

        Re: Humidity control

        I worked for ICL as a Mainframe systems consultant in the 80's and 90's working in ICL customer services (SSC & S39SC) at that point all mainframe vendors insisted on air conditioned and humidity controlled environments. We did perform site audits as part of the pre-sales process for new customers and I have worked with customers who were experience higher than normal failures to commission floor and ceiling void cleaning and aircon overhaul's (e.g. where a site was experiencing regular system crashes / disk head failures). The original posted doesn't seem to realise what access we had to engineering data when investigating faults and the level of skill and the persistence the engineering teams when trying to resolve reliability issues. Mainframe computers were the Rolls Royce of IT during this period and the running costs reflected this. Even as a fairly junior consultant I could mobilise whatever technical resources I required from our engineering teams as long as I could provide a viable hypothesis which was backed u by the diagnostic data.

        While I was with ICL we did market a range of mall mainframes (S39 30's) for use in office environments but even these were more reliable in a Data centre environment.

        Several vendors did marker mid range systems which could operate outside the data centre but no-one would call these mainframes.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          NO ONE with a mainframe

          Kept it in a room that wasn't built as a datacenter! You don't spend a million bucks plus on a single piece of hardware and stick it in a broom closet. Sure, lots of companies did that with Novell and Windows servers, but that's a totally different thing.

  3. jake Silver badge

    Don't give me no static ...

    I've personally measured 61,750ish volts on an empty, unused Styrofoam coffee cup set down on an isolated table after a colleague walked across a nylon carpet wearing Nikes ... That's more than enough to cock up a CPU. HiPot is one of my favorite destructive testing "what if" games ;-)

    Grounded anti-static mouse mats were an actual thing. They were to ground the user, not the mouse. Seems the average secretary can generate upwards of 85KV walking down the hall to get a cuppa ...

    As a side note, most gas(petrol) station pump fires seem to be caused by females with man-made fiber underwear getting back into their cars after starting the fuel flow ... and then not grounding themselves before getting close to the fumes surrounding the fuel-flap when completing the scenario.

    Static electricity can be a bitch.

    1. Chris 125

      Re: Don't give me no static ...

      "As a side note, most gas(petrol) station pump fires seem to be caused by females with man-made fiber underwear getting back into their cars after starting the fuel flow ..."

      Which is one of the reasons given for disabling the "auto flow" feature on UK pumps. The little clip and holes up the side of the handle should have an extra part to allow you to lock on the trigger and walk around. Useful on giant minitrucks and SUVs with 120 litre tanks, not so needed on a 50L tank over here.

      By forcing you to hold onto the metal trigger, you're grounded through the process. Less sparks, less boom.

      You can usually wedge the fuel cap in the trigger - I often do as on cold days my wonky handbones don't half ache after 3-4 minutes of squeezing the trigger. However if you do this in view of the cashier, expect to have your pump shut off and a snarky tannoy announcement.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        Argghh!

        My Clark's slip-on, wear-for-every-routine-activity shoes seem to build up a nice static charge when I'm in the car, and earth painfully when I'm out. The thought of this surrounded by petrol fumes! (Icon literal).

        1. Fihart

          Re: Don't give me no static ...

          On one occasion I touched a laptop and felt/heard a flash of static. The computer stopped dead.

          Fortunately laptop could be restarted and was apparently undamaged. Culprit, pair of trainers with (presumably) synthetic soles, walking on a wool carpet.

          Note also that opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static -- try opening one in the dark

          (don't ask !) .

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            > opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static

            Possibly the same effect as using sellotape to generate x-rays.

            https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn15016-humble-sticky-tape-emits-powerful-x-rays/

          2. Still Water

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            It's related, but not quite the same - it is called triboluminescence (whereby small charges are shorted within the glue itself/bond breakage cause the glow) - it's not like the discharge you get when (eg) taking off a jumper made of man-made fibres.

            1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

              Re: Don't give me no static ...

              Smash some candy (surgery sweets like a "Polo").

              You get a nice glow!

              https://youtu.be/tW8q_JfmcbU

              1. Captain DaFt

                Re: Don't give me no static ...

                Wintergreen lifesavers are best. The wintergreen oil in them really lights up!

            2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: Don't give me no static ...

              discharge you get when (eg) taking off a jumper made of man-made fibres.

              Or (cough, allegedly) stroking a cat with something made of silk.

              Which (again, allegedly) results in a very annoyed cat and areas of missing epidermis on the hands.

              Scars? What, me? Oh - *those* scars. Can't think where they came from - nothing I know can create 4 roughly parallel scars[1] about 1cm apart over the back of your hand..

              [1] Until $CURRENT_DOG I'd never been bitten[2] by a dog[3] despite living with them all my life. I do, however, have a number of small puncture-scars. Quite a few of them as the result of have a tortie cat as a youngster. One who lived up to every sterotype of tortieness..

              [2] To be fair, stepping on him at 3am while getting out of bed was a mistake. In my defence, I did look for him sleeping by my side of the bed, but a combination of extreme myopia, darnkess and blankets draped over the bed meant I really didn't see him. And at that point he was still settling in and (as a 13-year old rescue dog) had obviously had people stepping on/kicking him. He bit me in reflex and then immediately went into high-pitched propitiation yipping. I then spent the next 5 minutes reassuring him.. I did the same thing recently one night and his reaction is now very different - he just grumbles instead of biting.

              [3] Boxers[4] and boxer-crosses growing up. GSD/rottie cross, doberman/rottie cross, staffie/JR cross and miniture dachshund once married. And a few elderly rescue dogs once that lot were gone.

              [4] And very nice they were too. Unless they thought that I or my brothers were being threatened by someone. I'd love a boxer now but don't think I've got the energy to keep up with one (or two).

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "Note also that opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static -- try opening one in the dark"

            Not necessarily static. Other forms of luminescence are available.

          4. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "Note also that opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static -- try opening one in the dark"

            Cant wait to try that! will make bills much more fun

          5. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
            Headmaster

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static"

            That's triboluminescence, not static electricity.

          6. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "Note also that opening envelopes with self-adhesive flap generates static -- try opening one in the dark"

            Nope. Nothing to do with static - that's Triboluminescence.

            Anyone who has ever worked in a darkroom has seen this, for instance when peeling off sticky tape when opening a pack of pgotograpgic paper. BTW, unpeeling a roll of sticky tape in a vacuum will generate X-rays.

        2. steelpillow Silver badge

          Re: Don't give me no static ...

          @Terry 6: When you climb out of the driving seat, hold on to the door latching stud on the main bodyshell. (wipe off excess grease first!)

          The static builds up only as you pull your butt away from the seat and work is done pulling apart the two layers of different-charged materials covering each. If you ground yourself back to the vehicle, you create a return path for the electrons and no charge can build up. The current passing through your hand is negligible and you won't feel it.

          I went through all kinds of trailing gizmos behind my motor before I figured this out. I felt it made all those years as an EMP test engineer worthwhile.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            Top tip there @steelpillow, thank you!

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            Also try holding a key so that it allows the discharge just before you touch the car. Probably best to use a house key rather than the car key due to the remote electronics.

            The back of the hand hurts less than your fingers too.

            1. cosmogoblin

              Re: Don't give me no static ...

              Alternatively, give the car a short, sharp tap with your finger. This gives a greater surface area for the charge to flow through than if you just brush or lightly touch the metal, thus spreading out the current, and reducing the amount through each individual nerve.

          3. I Like Heckling

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            Or you could always do as I do and only buy cars with leather interiors. :)

            I haven't had a car with non leather seats in at least 15yrs

          4. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "The static builds up only as you pull your butt away from the seat"

            And treating the seat with suitable antistatic fabric spray helps a lot, if there's no metal part of the vehicle you can hang onto as you get up (I had one car that was rotten for this due to the amount of plastic panelling and polyester seat fabric. The eventual cure was a couple of bits of foil tape discreetly located in the grab handle hollow with grounding wire attached to the body.)

            This may (should) be something that carmakers have sorted by now. Conductive plastics aren't difficult to specify.

      2. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        "By forcing you to hold onto the metal trigger, you're grounded through the process. Less sparks, less boom."

        It also prevents the disturbingly common issue of people driving off with the pump still attached to their car. America is a funny place sometimes; in some parts it's considered such a terrible inconvenience to hold a trigger for a minute or so that no-one worries about the safety issues, while in others holding said trigger is so important that it's illegal to do it yourself and you have to employ someone for the sole purpose of doing it properly. Meanwhile pretty much all countries ban mobile phones around petrol stations despite there being no evidence of a single fire caused by one, and indeed plenty of research to show it's not actually possible (unless it's a Samsung of course). Sometimes it almost seems as though humans are really bad at assessing risk.

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: Mobile Phones

          Had to explain this to one of the younger lads at rugby - there is no technical reason for not using a mobile at a petrol station, but you shouldn't do it anyway as it means you're not paying attention to the highly flammable liquid you're pouring into your car.

          1. Sparkypatrick

            Re: Mobile Phones

            There's no safety reason for not using a mobile phone on the forecourt, but it can cause interference with other systems.

          2. Alien8n Silver badge

            Re: Mobile Phones

            The issue with mobile phones wasn't to do with combustion (although that's how it's sold) it's actually the same reason phones were originally banned on flights. The sensors in the pumps that measure flow weren't shielded properly and the phone signal could interfere, giving random readings under or over the actual flow rate and hence giving the wrong cost of the fuel. They did a great Mythbusters looking at mobile phones and planes and concluded that while modern aircraft do appear to be well shielded if you look at much older aircraft that don't have the same level of shielding a phone can seriously affect the navigation systems (they tested this on the ground with a mock up cockpit, but using genuine aircraft parts.)

          3. The First Dave Silver badge

            Re: Mobile Phones

            The point is that you are not supposed to use _ANY_ radio transmitter in close proximity to a petrol pump.

          4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Mobile Phones

            "there is no technical reason for not using a mobile at a petrol station,"

            Especially considering that some petrol stations are also mobile phone mast sites with far more power transmitters than anything a hand-held phone can produce. IIRC, Shell have/used to have the mast aerial inside the big Shell logo/sign.

            1. Soruk
              WTF?

              Re: Mobile Phones

              One Shell station I was at recently had a sign inviting the user to sign up for - and pay - for their fuel by scanning a QR code attached to the pump. They even provided WiFi for this. And right next to the sign, another one warning that mobile phones were not to be used.

              1. Jelder

                Re: Mobile Phones

                Thereby creating a rules paradox that will keeps some very expensive lawyers occupied for weeks!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't give me no static ...

          Of course America is a trigger happy nation.

          As for assessing risk, just think Grenfell Tower.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            "As for assessing risk, just think Grenfell Tower."

            Latest news is that proper fireproof cladding was specified and then someone thought aluminium, being metal, was also safe and, more crucially, £300,000 cheaper. Not sure if that was specified by the council or if someone down the chain found a way to increase the profit margin.

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Re: Don't give me no static ...

              My mechanic tells me that sone CB radios used to interfere with the fuel pump measurement mechanisms, so petrol stations just erred on the side of caution and so displayed Do Not Use Mobile Phones.

            2. HieronymusBloggs

              Re: Don't give me no static ...

              "someone thought aluminium, being metal, was also safe"

              It probably would have been if it wasn't attached to polyethylene foam insulation. PE is chemically similar to paraffin wax, and even if mixed with flame retardent will still burn very efficiently given the right conditions. The building was effectively a giant candle.

            3. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Don't give me no static ...

              "then someone thought aluminium, being metal, was also safe and, more crucially, £300,000 cheaper"

              Then they saved £5k on £80k worth of aluminum composite panels by specifying the flammable ones instead of the flame retardant ones (2 quid per panel cheaper over 2500 panels)

              Then they saved about the same on the insulation under the cladding by specifying a plastic (flammable) type instead of rockwool ("But it's got better insulation properties" - yeah about the same as an extra 1/2" of rockwool)

              Then the builders saved a bit of money by either not installing firestopping at each level or somehow compromising it during installation.

              Then they saved even more by running an exposed gas supply line up the stairwell (fire escape) with an exposed spur into each corridor instead of doing it properly by putting it in the service riser and keeping the apartment supply pipes out of the escape corridors. ("We were going to box it in" - yeah, with wooden non-gastight boxing)

              The last item constitutes "setting a man trap" and is why so many people died despite past cladding fires having very low casualty rates - they couldn't get out because apart from the smoke, by the time they tried the fire escape was itself on fire.

              And that's quite apart from the issues of compromised fire doors and blocking off the access road so that brigades couldn't easily get access to the building.

              Grenfell is going to be held up in civil engineering classes for decades as an example of how a safe design can be hopelessly compromised and why bridging firebreaks and then adding bridge protection built around a single point of failure is a bad idea, especially when you expect that SPOF (the firestopping) to be installed by minimum wage unqualified, poorly trained and badly supervised staff.

        3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Don't give me no static ...

          "America is a funny place sometimes"

          Indeed - a non professional 10 year old holding the trigger of an AR15 is fine , but the same 10 year old cant hold a Kinder Egg because of dangerous small parts.

        4. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Don't give me no static ...

          while in others holding said trigger is so important that it's illegal to do it yourself and you have to employ someone for the sole purpose of doing it properly.

          This isn't usually about "safety"... it's about employment and making sure no one drives off without paying.

        5. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Don't give me no static ...

          "pretty much all countries ban mobile phones around petrol stations despite there being no evidence of a single fire caused by one, and indeed plenty of research to show it's not actually possible"

          In the days of CB and landmobile it was easily possible to draw sparks from the nozzle to the car(*) when the transmitter was keyed. When electronic pumps came along more than a few hams discovered that keying the linear amp in the boot would cause the counters to stop whilst fuel kept flowing.

          "mobile phones have transmitters, therefore mobile phones are dangerous" - or at least that's the mindset you have to contend with. Explanations of the differences between 300mw (Max), 25W and 2kW either go straight over their heads or they don't want to have to deal with the hassle of arguing with someone about what power their transmitter is putting out when a flat ban is easy.

          (*) Fuel nozzle fires are small and easily put out. One of the other dangers of autoflow handles is one being pulled out and spraying fuel everywhere although modern ones have protection against that too.

      3. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        @Chris125, Top tip, put one of those velcro cable straps behind the gas flap and use that to bind the trigger, you can then just put your hand over it and no-one will notice but without all the pain of holding a trigger against an unnecessarily strong spring.

        1. tedleaf

          Re: Don't give me no static ...

          Very very dangerous,one of my old bosses used to do that due to a damaged hand,then he started new medication,stopped to fill his merc up for the weekend,did the strap thing,and promptly passed out, being a very small quiet garage,staffed by a young idiot nobody noticed the forecourt covered in petrol,until the pump had delivered 200 litres of petrol and thankfully triggered some kind of alarm in the garage office and stopped the pump,the firemen were not very impressed by the bosses trick,nor the idiot staff,luckily for all concerned they got away with it that time...

          1. Down not across Silver badge

            Re: Don't give me no static ...

            ...nobody noticed the forecourt covered in petrol,until the pump had delivered 200 litres of petrol ...

            Sounds like a faulty nozzle.

            The nozzles cut of fuel even if the trigger is held when fuel level hits the nozzle. Let's face it, the nozzles have provision for locking the trigger, just that at least in UK they have elected to remove the locking mechanism (which, when present, also unlocks and releases the trigger when the aforementioned cutoff happens due to sensing fuel at nozzle).

            So whether the trigger is held by hand, strapped in via strap/fuel cap, or held by the locking mechanism makes no difference as pump will cut off automatically when fuel starts to build up/splash in the filler pipe.

            1. Black Betty

              Re: Don't give me no static ...

              I'm guessing he managed to partially dislodge the nozzle so that it never became immersed. Thus the vacuum failed to trigger.

      4. Cian Duffy

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        We've actual legislation in Ireland to ban them on petrol pumps but not diesel due to the lower ignition risk. However, its rare to find a station that hasn't removed them on all but nearly all will tolerate the filler cap being wedged in when filling a van tank as a result.

      5. My Alter Ego

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        I hand't considered electro-static discharge for the reason for their removal. My dad keeps a pop-rivet in his Discovery for exactly this reason, it's diesel so I imagine the chance of ignition is a lot lower. Plus it means you don't have do hold any oily diesel pump.

      6. Andy Taylor

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        I used to carry around a small metal pin (correct use was manual eject for a CD-ROM drive) to insert through the handle when my hands didn't work properly. It also let me check oil/water while the tank filled.

      7. Alan Brown Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        "most gas(petrol) station pump fires seem to be caused by females with man-made fiber underwear getting back into their cars after starting the fuel flow ..."

        Most european fuel station fires have been caused by drivers with their engines on fire pulling up alongside the pumps then running to the kiosk for help - even before the autoflow thingie was disabled.

        "Which is one of the reasons given for disabling the "auto flow" feature on UK pumps. "

        You can fix that with a 3mm allen key in the appropriate hole on on the nozzle. it's much easier than trying to jam a (tethered) fuel cap in there

        Mine's the one with a keyring containing an "auto flow fixer" and my hands don't hurt much at all now, thanks.

    2. Paul Kinsler
      Headmaster

      Re: I've personally measured 61,750ish volts on an empty, unused Styrofoam coffee cup

      Strictly, voltages are (differences) measured *between* things, not on them. The relevant electrical property on the cup would have been a charge (measured in Coulombs). (Edit: hmm, I suppose you might e.g. also measure the electrical field near the cup surface, but that's volts/meter...)

      Do we need a Reg unit of charge? On the basis of the comments here, we could either go with the cup thing, or something about nylon dresses.

      1. bpfh Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: I've personally measured 61,750ish volts on an empty, unused Styrofoam coffee cup

        Ok, so do we say one Nylon Bloomer (Nb) = 85 kv ?

        1. Scroticus Canis
          Coat

          Re: Ok, so do we say one Nylon Bloomer (Nb) = 85 kv ?

          So a pair would be 170kv?

          Only physically half-arsed people can get away with half a pair of bloomers/pants/knickers or even trousers.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: I've personally measured 61,750ish volts on an empty, unused Styrofoam coffee cup

        "Do we need a Reg unit of charge?"

        That's a DUP.

        Oh, that sort of charge.

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: I've personally measured 61,750ish volts on an empty, unused Styrofoam coffee cup

        Do we need a Reg unit of charge?

        I propose "The Light Brigade" where 1TLG == 99% loss of whatever the charge uses to earth itself.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I've personally measured 61,750ish volts on an empty, unused Styrofoam coffee cup

        "Do we need a Reg unit of charge? On the basis of the comments here, we could either go with the cup thing, or something about nylon dresses."

        I hereby nominate the knickers as an official Reg unit of charge. It's the electric charge generated by one pair of size medium 100% polyester knickers worn by an appropriate human test subject walking by sensitive equipment in a STP (standard temperature and pressure) environment. Color and style will need to be established by further committee research.

    3. okand

      Re: Don't give me no static ...

      I tend to generate static electricity when I go to get coffee or go to the bathroom. When sitting down again and touching my laptop made out of metal with a grounded charger I usually feel a chock. If I go for my phone while it's connected to the laptop instead the chock is usually stronger for some reason.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        Chocks away

      2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: Don't give me no static ...

        I'm sorry, did you say you go to the bathroom, touch your laptop and feel a chock? I don't think you should be concerned, that's supposed to be there. But your spelling does need improvement.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't give me no static ...

      I remember a report that gas pump fires were more likely to be caused by younger people. Older people are more likely to grab the car door or body to help them get in and out of the car. So more likely to ground out the static.

      I remember one of my winter coats was especially good (bad?) at generating static. Almost like tazering yourself sometimes. I learned to hold the metal on a key and touch the key to the car to discharge the static. I tried to avoid touching it to a painted surface as I didn't want to blast holes through the paint.

  4. David Roberts Silver badge
    Windows

    Apocryphal tale

    Of a Telex engineer tracking a problem who got into deep trouble for asking a young lady if she was wearing nylon underwear.

    Could be urban legend, but as already posted, tact required.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Apocryphal tale

      Dunno about Telex, but I have run into the classic "Secretary, nylon underwear, nylon tights and polyester pencil skirt" more than once. Bzzzzt... here went one more motherboard.

      1. elDog Silver badge

        SNUTSS - Secretary, Nylon Underwear, Tight Skirt - Sparks

        'nuff said.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Polyester in 105F temperatures

    What kind of crazy person would wear man-made fibres when it's that hot?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Polyester in 105F temperatures

      Obviously not old enough (or so inclined, NTTAWWT!) to help a lady disrobe in order to slip into her bikini.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Polyester in 105F temperatures

        I've never seen a lady slip *into* a bikini... the process inevitably involves her briefly balancing on one leg at least one point, and some bending.

        I guess we can trace the phrase back to "Excuse me whilst I slip into something more comfortable" from films of a certain era, and one assumes the lady is referring to a silk dressing gown.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Here's one I made earlier

          "I've never seen a lady slip *into* a bikini... the process inevitably involves her briefly balancing on one leg at least one point, and some bending."

          Sir, the thoroughness of your investigation does you credit.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Polyester in 105F temperatures

      What kind of crazy person would wear man-made fibres when it's that hot?

      Or even in general.. (not a fan of polyester in any way, shape or fashion).

      In general, natural fibres[1] for me please.

      [1] For one reason - psoriasis seems to get a lot worse when exposed to modern fibres..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Polyester in 105F temperatures

        On the side of a mountain or on a boat technical fabrics are acceptable, but not in town - protection from the elements is what we have pubs for.

        Women notice artificial fibres on men, and avoid it. Heck, somehow some women can tell the difference between cashmere and normal wool just by looking at it, and they will express their appreciation.

        Don't wear polyester fleece - blim burns from your reefer really show up, whereas cotton or wool just shrug them off.

        In any case, as CrazyOldCatMan observes, natural fabrics are more comfortable and breathable. Look after your feet and wear leather shoes. Preferably leather soled, since they make dancing easier. Brogues are a good general purpose shoe, and are at home in a town pub as they are walking across a muddy field to a country pub.

        And wear a hat: rain is not a rare phenomenon on these shores.

        1. Long John Brass Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Polyester in 105F temperatures

          Brogues are a good general purpose shoe

          Oxfords not Brogues!

        2. Wensleydale Cheese

          Natural fibres

          Women notice artificial fibres on men, and avoid it. Heck, somehow some women can tell the difference between cashmere and normal wool just by looking at it

          The ability to spot a decent bit of cloth comes quite naturally to those of us brought up in a textile manufacturing environment.

          I can unerringly pick out the most expensive suits from a rack without looking at the price tags. Thankfully suits are no longer mandatory at work.

          "In any case, as CrazyOldCatMan observes, natural fabrics are more comfortable and breathable."

          Better for outdoor activities too. It's not a coincidence that farmers in moorland areas wear woollens.

  6. Wiltshire

    I can see how one might get into an Uber-load of trouble these days by asking one's female colleagues to remove their clothing. An Industrial Tribunal might be unimpressed by the defense line "But I was only trying to protect the IT equipment"

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Have a female colleague do the asking

      I am happy to volunteer. Of course, got to clear it with the wife...

  7. Olivier2553 Silver badge

    Carper?

    Carpet on the floor of the data center for 3 mainframes? Who is the lunatic that allowed such design?

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Carper?

      Bean counters. Even in an ordinary office this is not an acceptable kind of carpet. I (we) spent several years in a place with cheap nasty nylon carpet, getting nasty shocks whenever we came into contact with anything metal.

      The computers didn't seem to suffer, just the humans, which is strange. Because at my previous place, the (only) computer regularly crashed after a new colleague started, but only when she was using it. One day she walked past me while I was on the PC and it crashed. She tended to wear those fluffy sweaters and they were full of static. It was an Ah Ha moment. And once she started to wear ordinary stuff the crashes stopped.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Carper?

        A computer room (Win 2000 for Word, not the mainframe CAD suite) at my uni had a bad carpet for static, exacerbated by the skate shoes and shuffling walks sported by many of us students.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Carper?

      Carpet on the floor of the data center for 3 mainframes? Who is the lunatic that allowed such design?

      To be fair, my home computer room[1] uses carpet tiles. Ones that are anti-static and were being chucked out, unused by one of my previous employers[2].

      [1] Doesn't everyone have one of these? The aircon in it is great for when we come back from walking the dog in 32C heat.. If only it wasn't also used as a technology-I-have-known junk pile - we might have been able to put a bed in there too. Although I have come up with a Cunning Plan TM to have a duct installed from that room to our bedroom (shares a common wall) with a built-in fan so that we can blow cold air at the ceiling fan..

      [2] Just had all our area carpeted with anti-static carpet tiles. New director comes in, doesn't like the colour [3], has them all taken up and replaced. A number of us took as many as we wanted. I still have quite a few in the garage.

      [3] blah, blah, PanTone, blah blah, HQ regulations, blah blah. Summarised as "I don't like them and I control the budget".

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "it might be you appearing in this august space next week!"

    But next week is July...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: "it might be you appearing in this august space next week!"

      Dammit. Two hours too late.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nine years ago I worked on systems used in emergency services' control rooms. My colleague suspected a problem with static, and asked me to go to the site with him.

    The company actually had a gizmo to measure static electricity, which we took.

    When we got there, he produced a pack of balloons. We inflated a couple, and then rubbed a balloon on each other. Seeing as this was the fallback control room, there was no one to see this spectacle.

    At the same period of time, my mum had a cat with a particular talent. One day I had been vigorously stroking him, and for some reason I pointed my index finger towards his nose. There was an audible crack and a 10mm spark jumped from my finger to his nose, the poor thing. I took the static electricity measuring thing home from work, and got the cat up to 40,000 volts with ease.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Cats at 40,000 volts

      My neighbours cats which poop all over my garden have also been charged to 40,000 volts with ease. I love tesla coils and van de graff generators.....

      (Only Joking..... !!!!!).

      It was at 50,000 volts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cats at 40,000 volts

        Off topic, but I can strongly recommend lion shit as an effective method for keeping cats out of your garden.

        Local wildlife park sells it, about the same cost as fancy compost. Fairly sure any big cat works, it's the whole "avoid a predator" instinct.

        1. David Nash Silver badge

          Re: Cats at 40,000 volts

          Surely the usual reason to want cats out of your garden is to stop them using it as a toilet. Replacing it with the same stuff but smelling like lions rather than little cats, seems counterproductive.

        2. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Cats at 40,000 volts

          Tomcat pissing on property. Bleached area, still came. Caught cat in humane trap one night (set for other pest). Next morning took my morning pee over cat and released it. No further problems.

          1. Mephistro Silver badge

            Re: Cats at 40,000 volts

            I had this same problem with neighbourhood cats in my garden. Following advice from a friend, I hid a few little bird spring traps in the most visited areas. After a few days and several noisy incidents, the cats stopped using my garden as a loo.

            Funny thing is, this happened some 15 years ago and the cats never returned. It's as if the buggers had some kind of oral tradition. 8^)

          2. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

            Re: Cats at 40,000 volts

            Cats can be smart. Friend of mine was cleaning out his workshop and offered me some antique electronic test gear. A couple of General Radio units including a beautiful capacitance bridge in near mint condition. Sitting right next to them on his shelf was a piece of junk Fluke VTVM. His wife's cats had peed all over the Fluke, rusting it's innards beyond repair. But they left the GR equipment untouched.

        3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Cats at 40,000 volts

          "Fairly sure any big cat works, it's the whole "avoid a predator" instinct."

          Is it just something about the smell or do cats have some highly developed "race memory"?

      2. Munchausen's proxy
        Pint

        Re: Cats at 40,000 volts

        The general rule of thumb I learned long ago was "about 50,000 volts per inch of spark in dry air." I think there's an awful lot of slop in that number, though; it would probably be more accurate to just say "tens of thousands."

        Beer icon, because I've personally seen a falling droplet spark generator run on beer.

      3. Andy A

        Sparks Galore!

        The place where I started work in 1976 had a new carpet installed. Suddenly everyone was getting shocks, even those wearing natural fibres.

        The computer room, with its vinyl floor tiles, was safe because the partitioning everywhere was of the four-feet-of metal-with-a glass-panel-above type.

        I used to walk around carrying a pencil, which I used to tough the door with before using the handle.

        At another place I worked, some people had to use conductive footwear because of the risk of explosion. A prospective supplier would visit, and their sample would be tested near my desk. The test kit consisted of a metal plate, and a circuit through a megger to the inside of the shoe, which the teater filled with steel ball bearings. The number of shoes which failed was impressive. The manufacturer would make a good conductive sole, and then take their eyes off the ball and fit an insulating insole!

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      There was an audible crack and a 10mm spark jumped from my finger to his nose, the poor thing. I took the static electricity measuring thing home from work, and got the cat up to 40,000 volts with ease.

      Quite common with cats. I've yet to determine what fur-type gives the best voltage. Need more experimental subjects[1]..

      [1] We would have had 9 cats if I'd been allowed to keep the other 3 kittens from the litter+mother we rescued. I was restricted to keeping just mother+smallest kitten[2]

      [2] The small, paranoid[3], calico one.

      [3] To be fair, not an exactly rare thing in cats. But there appears to be a much higher incidence in calico cats. Both samples we've owned have specialised in multiple layers of paranoia..

    4. kain preacher Silver badge

      cat tazzer ?

      1. Colabroad

        Come now!

        Cat Taser! Respect the acronym!

        Thomas A Swift's Electric Rifle

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Static protection

    I worked for some years in R&D for a company involved in static and lightning protection. The level of ignorance around industry at the time was enormous. People didn't see the need.

    One of the organisations that was unimpressed by our sales pitch was BR, or whatever it was called at the time. When a year later a main line signal box was taken out by a lightning strike I'm afraid we all cheered.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Static protection

      The level of ignorance around industry at the time was enormous. People didn't see the need.

      That was one of the (very, very few) things that MotRot did well during my time there...

  11. Dante Alighieri

    OT : Petrol Pumps

    A split pin on your car keys fits the holes on a pump very easily to use the flow lock.

    As I fuel with diesel keeps hands cleaner and less risk of RUD (ala SpaceX)

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: OT : Petrol Pumps

      I just use one of the disposable gloves provided.

      If you have trouble gripping, I recommend using a gyroscope 'Power Ball' to strengthen the appropriate muscles. It's also good for relieving RSI. They often used my musicians and rock climbers, amongst others.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: OT : Petrol Pumps

        If you have trouble gripping, I recommend using a gyroscope 'Power Ball' to strengthen the appropriate muscles.

        Not so good if the muscle attachments are affected by psoriatic arthritis[1]. The body actively works to stop you applying force to muscles attached to the joints affected.

        [1] Imagine psoriasis. Now imagine it affecting the synovial membranes round the joint capsules and causing inflammation to said membranes and the tendons nearby. It's quite painful. And, if left untreated[2], caused acute joint deformation. In my case, it affects the hands, feet, lower spine, knees and hips. Which is why I had to give up riding motorbikes.

        [2] Which involves quite a number of toxic compounds and/or biologicals. Which is why blood tests once/month get done.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: OT : Petrol Pumps

          Sorry to hear that CrazyOldCatMan. Of course it goes without saying to the rest of us to get these things checked out by a medical professional and to apply critical thinking if researching ourselves online.

          For those without the tendon/muscle interface affected by a condition, the gyroscopic nature of the Powerball keeps the wrist tendons straight.

  12. Peter Christy

    Anti-static.....

    "In a far galaxy, a long time ago"... I was helping out a friend who manufactured radio control gear. The American designs he was using were well past their sell-by date, and I offered to design something a bit more up-to-date for him. My design entailed the use of new-fangled CMOS chips in the decoder, so I duly gave him the traditional warnings about static, etc, when assembling them. A week or two after my system had entered production, I went round to his factory, and found him sitting at his workbench soldering in the chips, wearing nothing but his cotton shorts!

    Not a pretty sight, but at least he'd listened to what I told him!

    Around the same time, I worked in the videotape department of a major broadcaster. The old quadruplex VTRs were monsters that cost around 3 times as much as a small semi-detached house. The video heads only lasted about 200 hours before requiring a re-work at £1000 a throw. The company had replaced the worn out "computer" floor tiles, and the new ones were causing enormous static build ups. You only had to walk across the booth to get an almighty belt when you touched the machine.

    The solution was an aerosol can of anti-static spray, which you sprayed over the floor and your trouser legs to reduce the static build up. This worked a treat! Unfortunately, the anti--static spray was in orange cans, almost identical in appearance to the cleaning agent used to clean the video heads on the VTRs! The anti-static stuff had the unfortunate property of completely stripping the insulation off the delicate heads.

    I'm not sure how many heads got destroyed before all the anti-static sprays were removed, but even if it were only a few, the expense must have been enormous.......

    --

    Pete

    1. jeffdyer
      WTF?

      Re: Anti-static.....

      Anti static spray, safe to be sprayed on trousers, was worse on the tape heads than head cleaner?

      Seems odd.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Anti-static.....

        > Unfortunately, the anti--static spray was in orange cans, almost identical in appearance to the cleaning agent

        Haha, much like that shelf in Maplins, where all the aerosol cans are white. Some are air dusters, some are anti static spray, some are sticky label remover...

        In the domestic household space, orange by convention normally denotes something pretty nasty and caustic, such as oven cleaner or drain unblocker.

        This isn't the case in the industrial space. I remember cleaning my brush with what I thought was white spirits, because the label was tattered and mostly missing. Upon seeing weird smoke, I examined the label more closely to read ".......ic ..cid". I'm very glad I hadn't used it with saw dust to clean oil off my hands!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Working on copiers and printers, it's not unusual to receive call outs for "The machine gave me an electric shock!". Explaining that, "No, if it had the fuse would have blown and you'd know about it, in fact it's you shocking the machine" is usually quite a lengthy process...

    1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      Fanfold paper hurts

      Ah yes, long time sinceupon I worked on high speed line printers. One was test run but without the tinsel thingy on the paper exit. Picked up a wedge of printout with one hand, went to flick the perforations with the other to get the tear off started and got one hell of a belt. Data 100 that was, in Hemel Hempstead. Part of CDC, if I recall correctly. <waves at any old lags>

  14. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

    Prior art

    Nice to know this still happens!

  15. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Remonds me of this...

    A Story about Magic

  16. chivo243 Silver badge

    Too cold

    My mom worked in a "Data Processing" department where her office was adjacent to the HP Mainframes, and she always wore many layers... The airco was quite beefy!

  17. Clive Harris
    Flame

    Back around 1980, and fresh out of university, my first job was for a company making control systems for printing equipment (Crosfields). A customer asked us to help with a static problem and, as part of my training, my boss took me with him to look into it.

    The customer was printing the wrappers for fish fingers, using a toluene-based ink onto cellophane. The cellophane passed from one roll, through the gravure printer, onto another roll (each roll a few thousand feet long). There had been a history of explosions, thought to be caused by static. These were tolerated until the local union boss took a look round, peered into the machine, and lost his eyebrows when it blew up in his face.

    He immediately called everyone out on strike, which was when we were called in. When we arrived, my boss handed me an ancient field-strength measuring machine and told me to take a look round, while he went to speak with the managers.The printer had been started up for our benefit, so I waved the meter near the take-up roll. The dial immediately swing up to around 300kV/foot (almost 1MV/m in modern units).

    When my boss came back, I reported that to him, and showed him where I had taken the measurement. He didn't believe me and pointed to the machine in disbelief. "Don't be ridiculous. It can't be that high. You must have made a mistake. Look at that th....". At that moment, a thunderbolt shot from the roll to his outstretched hand, throwing him across the room.

    He slowly staggered back to his feet "Yes. OK. I get the point. We do have a static problem".

    In retrospect, it should have been obvious. The setup was effectively a Van der Graff generator. Static was being generated by the cellophane flexing as it ran through the printer and it was steadily accumulating on the periphery of the take-up roll, which was acting as the dome of the Van der Graff generator. The big trough of toluene-based ink was just waiting for a spark to set it off.

    I think the problem was eventually fixed with some carefully-placed electrostatic "tinsel" placed next to the rolls (Icon depicting what was happening there several times a week)

    1. Trumpet Winsock
      Mushroom

      Whatever would Robert have said?

      Flame sucks between the balls of steel

      Nothing moves, the air itself congeals

      Look at the flame if you want to

      Hear the sharp crack of the fission

      Smell the brief vapour of ozone

      Feel static motion

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Whatever would Robert have said?

        A plague of lighthouse keepers on both your houses!

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Tinsel

      I remember the old high speed line printers used to have, not only tinsel bars, but an actual HV generator (of opposite polarity) to cancel out the static so the paper woudn't stick to the machine and cause jams.

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      dome of the Van der Graff generator

      Ahhh.. I remember having great fun[1] at school with those..

      [1] Lighting a bunsen burner with my finger while my other hand was on the VDGG[2] dome. All done while standing on a milk-crate to provide insulation. Or wiring the door-handle of the Physics lab to the dome of one..

      [2] I think of Prog every time I type that. Although I'm not really a fan of the music of VDGG..

  18. Elmer Phud

    Static Shuffle

    Oh, the fun while on a hell-desk with polywotsit carpet.

    Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle - towards a colleague who is on call to a customer.

    Finger to tip of other ear from earpiece, prizes only awarded for them not flinching, swearing etc.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Static Shuffle

      Now that is most delightfully evil!

      *cackle*

  19. chris street

    Triboluminescens

    @fihart The glow referred to on envelope gum isn't strictly static charge, it's a related phenomena called triboluminescence caused by charge separation and redistribution in crystals as they are pulled apart at molecular level. It can do interesting things - if you get tape and pull it apart (Scotch tape is good) you get a glowing line at the separation point. Do it in a vacuum and you get X-ray generation for reasons that are not fully understood...

    1. JulieM Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Triboluminescens

      At a first guess, you probably get X-rays in air too, but they don't travel very far .....

      I suspect E = h * c / λ might have something to do with it.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ughh

    Static's one of the things that really annoys me about working on a Mac. Bloody jolts I've gotten of the metal body is the reason I'm given funny looks tapping it with my knuckles (for the record you have less nerves in knuckles than finger tips so it hurts allot less) never a problem with my corporate issue plastic Lenovo such is life.

    Annon because I've mentioned an OS...

    1. David Shaw

      Re: ughh- No static at all?

      its quite possible that you're not getting a 'static' belt, but the 'leakage current' through the RF suppression components. On a Macbook this leakage can be solved by using an official earthed power lead into the white square blob instead of a generic figure-of-eight twin lead mains plug. If you're already using a 3-pin plug then its time to check for earth (non)-continuity, perhaps through adapters or extension leads?

      the (safeish) leakage current of about half-a-milliamp (typical) on a metal framed laptop is floating at half the mains volts, so around 1.4 milliNylonBloomers - others describe the Macbook as feeling tickly - as the back of the hand can detect the alternating current quite well. Lenovo's have the charger with an earthed clover connector - many 'plastic' Lenovos are stuffed with light metal alloys that can also 'buzz' without an earth. . .and remember you can run MacOS Sierra on an X220 with a de-whitelisted BIOS & a £20 wifi card, allegedly.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: ughh- No static at all?

        others describe the Macbook as feeling tickly

        The surface treatment on my MBP 2016 has that effect. It happens even when the laptop isn't connected to the power (or even on). And it appears to direction-sensitive.

  21. Dan McIntyre

    I use a wheelchair and often spend time in hotels with various types of carpet. Most of these hotels have metal controls on the lifts so you'll often see me tapping at the wall around the controls before touching them as I hate the discharge that happens if I go directly for the metal button.

    Has gotten me some strange looks.

  22. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Finger of death

    In the late eighties when I was doing a night school course in college they had the incredibly static prone but otherwise not too bad Amstrad PC1512 and 1640, running DOS. They failed with a stack error on static overdose if I remember correctly.

    There was one particular woman who could literally point her finger at the screen from a distance of a number of centimetres and it would die.

    1. David Shaw

      Re: Finger of death

      point her finger at the screen from a distance of a number of centimetres and it would die.

      I saw this happen to a live System-X (telecom) switch in central London, I'd taken my team of 20 budding engineers to look at the room filled with humming boxes, and an operations engineer pointed to the nearest PCM Concentrator unit. The other Concentrators and the cross-connect switching seemed to carry on - but all hell broke loose as a few thousand trading calls stopped.

      I'm quite sure it was a gesture from around 3-feet away, I think the floor was correctly dissipative, dunno what underwear/pants were involved but Cable & W certainly stopped 'tourism' after that.

      The O&M was rather fantastic getting new cards in & working within ten-minutes. Also late 80s.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I do have one from deep in the vault from a 15 years ago. I did laptop support for one of the big vendors at the time. A customer called in saying if they touched the right speaker grill of their laptop it would cause the laptop to lock up. We sat and discussed the call and the theory of static discharge was floated. So we retrieved an identical unit from our stock proceeded to try and shock the right speaker grill. People rubbing balloons on their head and putting it up to the speaker grill. At one point it looked like a conga line of a bunch of pastey tech support guys dragging their feet and touching the speaker grill. Finally someone found a very plush mat and we were able to make the laptop crash on command when dragging our feet across that mat. Once we verified the claim. We disassembled the laptop to find out why. Our contract manufacturer for this unit were taking short cuts and not running the speaker wires through the track that was designed but a slightly parallel path that got sort of crimped under the speaker grill. We re-ran the speaker wire in the track and all was well. A really interesting case but the conga line of pastey nerds was quite a sight and I don't recommend it to anyone.

  24. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    and dry, dry California air on a 105°F day might have been too much for a mainframe's anti-static protection.

    Wot, no humidity control? In a mainframe machine room? Sounds ... debatable to me.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whilst at a previous employer, (a West Yorkshire based manufacturer of consumer electronics products of a tele-visual nature), the management decided that because targets had been met, it would give the workforce a company sweatshirt each.

    The following morning, our PCB functional test failure rate shot through the roof. Most of the products were VLSI based and quite static sensitive. We were well aware of this, and regular anti-static control audits were normal, making sure that everyone was wearing a wristband and heel grounders when on the factory floor.

    It turns out our loyal production line staff had decided to wear aforementioned sweatshirts en masse. No one had even considered whether the material was suitable for a mass production environment involving delicate microelectronics. Turns out they weren't.

    Urgent request to remove sweatshirts issued - defect rate returns to normal.

    Anonymous - because some of those products are still out there, but could be "walking wounded" - a CE industry term for static damaged silicon which operates normally for a while.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anti-static, Schmanti-static. Ten years I repaired computers for a company who sound a little bit like "Nixons". Ten years of only grounding myself with the appropriate kit if someone important was visiting the site, like a manufacturer.

    I assume I got away with it, not through lack of "pesky kids" but more through my standard work practise of slouching over my workbench, elbows grounded through the ESD matting. Nothing else there was ESD - standard office chairs, standard flooring, no air treatment, no testing.

    I do remember buying one of those little AA-powered soldering irons, wondering how they worked. Turns out they work by turning 1.5V into high voltage, low current and creating a spark hot enough to melt solder. Who'd have thought that a computer mainboard wouldn't like having its USB ports reflowed with one of those?

  27. Fred W

    Methinks this is an IT/Urban legend... The story I heard, 1970 or so, had the event occurring at a Univac facility in Minnesota, in the winter (ie. low humidity from the heated air) and involved a woman walking past the computer room wearing nylon hose.

  28. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    hmmm hmm

    S36. Braaaaaaaaaand new. MAPICSII (second Canadian installation).

    The *computerroom* was 10' x 12', but had no door. AC unit punched through the wall to keep the room cool, just one of those huge honking window AC units. My desk was about 18" from the S36. (The manager complained that I listened to music on headphones until I made her sit with me for 3 hours one day. After that not so many complaints).

    Hot

    **HUMID**

    August.

    I went to grab lunch and came back to utter panic since it had shut down suddenly and without warning. The lady that printed invoices had shifted the printer 8 or 9 inches over and knocked the drain off the drip tray. Which then dripped on power connector for the S36. Which tripped breaker.

    Hey, They didn't ask me about it, they just never listened to the 17 year old computer geek.

    (#$%@#$% I've been at this too damned long)

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back in the dark days of discrete MOS (Metal Oxide Semiconductor) components in the mid-1970s, the US military had to specify cotton underwear and clothing for technicians attending training classes. This was before the days of ISO9000-specified heel straps, etc. Seems there's really nothing new to this.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Aircon in server rooms

    Back in the day, at my first place of employment, I was reliably (or possibly highly unreliably) informed that by proper (by which I mean highly improper) adjustment of the temperature and humidity controls, it was possible to get it to snow in the server room.

    One for the Mythbusters team?

    1. James O'Shea

      Re: Aircon in server rooms

      Hmm. The Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center is so big and has so much empty volume that it has its own internal weather. Including, allegedly, rain. I suppose that if someone were to close the main doors and crank up the A/C to max, there could be snow. It would be an interesting experiment, as long as I'm not the one who gets to pay the electric bill.

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

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Aircon in server rooms

        I've seen rain, well, drizzle really ... barely more than a light mist, but precipitation nonetheless ... inside of Hanger One at Moffett Field. Clouds around the rafters were fairly common.

  31. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

    That electrostatic discharge engineer should be fired, or at least censured.

  32. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Notice to all data center employees

    "All underwear must be removed when in the vicinity of the mainframe."

    The sign painters have the work order.

  33. The Other Otter

    Electro-Explosive

    Many years ago, when the earth was cooling, I worked with electro-explosive devices (EED). Normally, EEDs are little bombs that make big bombs go boom.

    Static discharge can be a death sentence, so, Uncle Sugar issued us cotton parkas, cotton underwear, special anti-static wool socks—you get the idea.

    One Friday, a coworker was doing his job when suddenly there was a sharp report, a big flash with debris, and he went flying across the room. After a few minutes of deafness, hyperventilation, and effing colorful language, he admitted he had a date, later that night, and wore his sexy nylon underwear to work to save time.

  34. josh.krischer

    I had a similar case in the 70-ies:

    Almost every day an IBM 360/65 was crashing at 7:30 +,- few minutes. Nothing in log, any other indication. My usual starting time was 08:00 but I decided to start earlier and to watch the machine. At 7:30 the cleaning lady moved with her trolley near the gate which contained the core memory of the mainframe and the system crashed.Next day I asked her to take another route and nothing happen. Most likely the reason was static electricity developed by the wheels of the trolley.

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