back to article Admin needed server fast, skipped factory config … then bricked it

Welcome to another edition of “Who, me?”, The Register’s confessional in which readers explain how they broke things. This week meet “Pete”, who way back in 1986 “was installing a dedicated file server for a small advertising agency.” And not just any server – a 3Com “3Server”, an oddity that tried to improve on early PC …

  1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
    Trollface

    A pop, and not a bang?

    What a damp squib.

    Glad to hear all ended well though :)

    First time I've heard about an application for the elusive 80186 - had fortunate experiences with the 8086, 80286+80287, 80386+80387 and so on...

    My first 80486DX I was in such a rush that I did not notice what I was doing and mounted the CPU the wrong way round - part of it glowed briefly before magic smoke escaped... had to toss the board and everything. Learnt my lesson that day.

    1. Waseem Alkurdi
      Mushroom

      Hats-off to the inventor of the CPU notch or whatever it's called that prevents you from doing just that! xD

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Hats-off to the inventor of the CPU notch or whatever it's called that prevents you from doing just that!"

        A workshop colleague once sat a CPU on the socket then dropped the retainer flap over and quickly jammed the lever over and under the latch to the sound of the corner of the CPU snapping off. Yeah, notches are good if you check the notches are in the right place before you apply loads of pressure. His face was a picture!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "My first 80486DX I was in such a rush that I did not notice what I was doing and mounted the CPU the wrong way round"

      About 20 years ago I was struggling to get a video card to work on a new PC motherboard. After trying yet another hardware change - I mistakenly plugged the motherboard's two side-by-side power connectors in the wrong sides of their common socket.

      After it failed to power up I realised my mistake with sinking heart. Swapped them round - and to my amazement the motherboard still worked. Not sure if it was luck or a piece of good design of the sockets' pins layout. It was a definite improvement when PC motherboards started to come with a single polarised power connector.

      That still didn't stop me plugging the power connector into a floppy disk the wrong way round. They were often tricky - being somewhat hidden with apparently no industry agreement on how they were mounted. One dead floppy.

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        That still didn't stop me plugging the power connector into a floppy disk the wrong way round.

        How did you manage to force a female molex connector the wrong way round into a male connector? I tried it, just could not be done without a lot of excessive force...

        1. macjules Silver badge

          I have seen memory chips filed down in order to make them 'fit', RJ45 connectors cut in order to make them fit into RJ11 sockets, HDMI plugs butchered to make them fit a USB port and on and on ..

          We talk about the dawn of Artificial Intelligence, but what we need is a dusk to Genuine Human Stupidity.

          1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

            I remember filing a 25-way D socket down to fit the 23-way plug that was the Amiga's video outpot.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "How did you manage to force a female molex connector the wrong way round into a male connector?"

          The small floppy female connector is almost symmetrical. The captive male end only had a very flexible tongue as a key - not a profiled shroud. Normally you had to do a blind fiddle inside the case to get the thing inserted against the sometimes considerable resistance of that tongue. So when the manufacturer fitted the captive male end unusually "upside down" - it was still possible to make the connection with no more than the usual amount of fiddling.

        3. DavCrav Silver badge

          "How did you manage to force a female molex connector the wrong way round into a male connector? I tried it, just could not be done without a lot of excessive force..."

          If I remember correctly, the connector for a floppy drive is just four bare pins and it's your responsibility to do any lining up and orientation. No hand-holding here.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "No hand-holding here."

            After killing that floppy - I then always took the precaution of using an indelible red marker pen to prominently indicate on the floppy metalwork as to which end was the positive pin.

            1. KSM-AZ

              Both outsides. even on the 8"s

              4 pin on 3.5 was awful but the 2 insides were ground, outsides were 12/5. I had some 8's with non-standard connectors. However I have reversed the 4 pin molex on both hard and floppy drives. Often very cheap plastic with minimal material around the key side, or brittle to the point of splitting with minimal force.

          2. Aitor 1 Silver badge

            Nope

            The 5 1/4" power connector you cannot connect it the wrong way.. the 3 1/2" you can with quite some persuasion required.

            Thankfully we no longer have to deal with those faulty devices.

            https://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/30/business/toshiba-faces-1-billion-bill-over-a-lawsuit.html

            1. The Oncoming Scorn
              Mushroom

              Re: Nope

              Unfortunately someone I knew did on at the time very expensive CD Burner (TWice).

              Cost him a few quid, managed to get it working both times after replacing the pcb sldered fuse.

            2. big_D Silver badge

              Re: Nope

              I had a user who managed to put a 3.5" disk in the wrong way round! Yes, with enough force, you could get them into the drive the wrong way round, it was damned hard work... Even more work getting it out again, I had to dismantle the whole drive!

              1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

                Re: Nope

                Yes, with enough force, you could get them into the drive the wrong way round, it was damned hard work...

                It goes along with many things. My much abused battery in an (old) MBP was misbehaving a little. I asked our admin to get it replaced. Not quite understanding the battery catch (as I said an old Macbook) she decided to use a screwdriver to help it out. She was extremelty competent in most things and certainly worth while bailing out.

                The replacement machiune was 'siezed' by de Kops (I was away at the time and I never got an adequate explanation - even a plausible one) as to why our personal machines were searched. Being away, for, again, reasons that remain murkey even new (it was only 10 years ago), no one asked for or demanded a password or even tried to ask me. However they obviously decided that trying to clone or at least look at the disk (encrypted anyway). Some plod did the same thing - assuming the battery was a disk. Hum de hum. Obviously embarassed they paid up for my and five other machines with similar case smtoms without a peep.

                Almost unbelievable... And the f***ing things even had screws to dissasemble them then.

              2. Trixr

                Re: Nope

                ...I thought that "insert disk 2 of 6" on top of disk 1 of 6 *already* in the drive was an urban myth until I saw it multiple times at a university I worked at. Ah, students.

            3. Les Matthew

              Re: Nope

              "The 5 1/4" power connector you cannot connect it the wrong way"

              Yes you can as I actually managed it on a Wangtek streamer.

          3. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

            I've done it before as well. Fortunately, only here and amazingly the few times I did "succeed" in making the wrong way around connection, I got clicking from the drive. Put me in mind of my Amiga 1000. Worked after reversing to "proper" orientation.

            At times, I've been quite amazed at what some machines live through. Design or accidental protection? No idea.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              "Design or accidental protection?"

              I often wonder if low power consumer kit has a blocking diode - or even a bridge rectifier - in order to survive people applying power the wrong way round.

              One of the apparently poor designs are R/C toy controllers. Often they require a 9v PP3 battery pressed into a rectangular slot with two flat terminal contacts. Seems possible to get it the wrong way round - and the polarity markings are just embossed in the plastic. I always insert a piece of yellow electrical tape and mark it to indicate the terminal polarities clearly.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                RE: "Design or accidental protection?"

                A lot of the sensors I work with are 24VDC, and use the current consumed to indicate the present reading. (4-20 mA systems, if anyone is curious.) A disturbingly high number of these don't much like having the power hooked up backwards. But one particularly bright manufacturer seems to have put a diode bridge onto the power connections - it really doesn't care which way it's connected, to the point that they didn't bother marking a polarity on it at all.

                1. ICPurvis47

                  Re: RE: "Design or accidental protection?"

                  I recently bought a very second-hand wheel balancer, but there was no power brick supplied with it. On investigation (RTFM), it became apparent that it would accept either 10 volts AC or 12 volts DC, but as the input went first to a bridge rectifier, the DC polarity was immaterial. A wonderful piece of kit, and a well designed power input system.

              2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                "I often wonder if low power consumer kit has a blocking diode - or even a bridge rectifier - in order to survive people applying power the wrong way round."

                That might appear logical at first glance, but if power can be applied incorrectly, then it's probably because someone realised they could save money in the manufacturing process by not using keyed or otherwise "foolproof" connectors. I think it unlikely they would then add "unnecessary" components. See, for example, your own observation of PP3 batteries in R/C toys.

          4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "If I remember correctly, the connector for a floppy drive is just four bare pins and it's your responsibility to do any lining up and orientation. No hand-holding here"

            Yes, on 3.5" floppies, especially in the early days where sometimes even the "tongue" was absent. The fact the person questioning the possibility mentiond Molex connectors means he was thinking the FDD referred to was a 5.25" drive which, by the time of the IBM-a-like PC had a standard connector which only fitted one way.

          5. DavCrav Silver badge

            "If I remember correctly, the connector for a floppy drive is just four bare pins and it's your responsibility to do any lining up and orientation. No hand-holding here."

            Now I think about it, it definitely does. I was teaching a friend how to build computers and I took my eye off him for a second and he connected the power to the floppy the wrong way round. A little popping and it was back to Jungle (gives you an idea when this was) for another floppy drive.

          6. phuzz Silver badge

            "If I remember correctly, the connector for a floppy drive is just four bare pins and it's your responsibility to do any lining up and orientation."

            It's not just possible to get it upside-down, it's also possible to plug it in offset, so only three pins connect. This will still cause to to let the smoke out.

            I worked at a medium sized PC manufacturer about 15 years ago, and I saw pretty much every possible error it was possible to make, even the ones that are "impossible". Yes, even getting a molex upside-down (it clearly required a lot of force). Things like getting a DIMM in the wrong way around were relatively commonplace.

        4. Alan Brown Silver badge

          "How did you manage to force a female molex connector the wrong way round into a male connector? "

          It was fairly easy on 5.25" edge connectors.

      2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

        "I mistakenly plugged the motherboard's two side-by-side power connectors in the wrong sides of their common socket.

        ...

        Swapped them round - and to my amazement the motherboard still worked. "

        Me too...

        I later noticed that all the 0V wires are towards the centre of that connector, so swapping them shorts all the other voltages together, presumably triggering the PSU short circuit protection. I decided not to test whether the motherboard would always survive.

        1. kain preacher Silver badge

          I did something similar. I was one pin off when I plugged the power connector on the board. Turn the power on and heard pop. The bios chip had dislodged it self :(

    3. DJV Silver badge

      80186

      My first professional programming job was on a Burroughs B21, which was a rebadged Convergent Technologies system - Burroughs later took over CT with they became Unisys. The B21 used the 80186 with (I think) 256K memory and the luxury of a 5MB hard disk - well, it was 1985!

      1. AndyJT

        Re: 80186

        Many moons ago, when I worked in Education, the 186 processor was used in some Research Machines (RM) kit which we had. Thankfully when I first started, my boss told me that he would look after this kit as it was so old/non-standard (and this was the early 1990s), but it was good enough to run for a couple of years after everyone else had stopped using it (even beat out some 386/486 kit in lifespan). From memory, the kit ran some weird version of DOS with some networking engine thrown on top of it, running some "really interesting" DOS programs.

        This was the first and last time I ever came across the 186.

        1. Richard Crossley

          Re: 80186

          Sounds like RM Nimbus

          1. Paratrooping Parrot

            Re: 80186

            I remember them at my college in the early 1990s. I remember coming in to the college and the mouse wasn't working properly. Other students also said their mice were not working. Some moron had cut up all the rubber mouse balls in the computer labs. The only mice working were the RM Nimbus ones which were metal.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: 80186

            I miss those like a hole in the head. I've hated RM with a passion since my school days.

        2. Chloe Cresswell

          Re: 80186

          My 80186 based machine was the 512 copro in my BBC master...

        3. gerdesj Silver badge

          Re: 80186

          My school (Abingdon aka "Royce's") had a RM Nimbus in the D&T workshop. With Windows 1 on it and a rather early AutoCAD.

          About 1 year later I (cheers Mum and Dad) had a 80286 based beast with 1MB of RAM. I saved up for a 80287 maths co pro so I could run ACAD on it. To be honest I had more fun reading Peitgen and some other bloke's fractal related shenanigans and attempting to replicate their results in GW Basic.

          Then I got hold of a C compiler - cool and quick and bloody complicated. I went back to BASIC to get the results that I wanted at the time, in linear time. Before you smite me with righteous indignation, bear in mind that I just wanted results and not a cool paradigm.

      2. dvd

        Re: 80186

        Those Convergent Technology machines were awesome for the 80s. It's a shame they went nowhere.

        The operating system (which was an advanced for the time pre-emptive multi-tasking networking operating system) was called CTOS - Convergent Technology Operating System. Burroughs badge engineered them and in a magnificent display of can't-be-arsedness, changed the OS name to BTOS. What did the T stand for? Nobody knew, but it meant that the string length did not need to change...........

      3. Bob Wheeler
        Happy

        Re: 80186

        Around that time, I had a BBC Master computer at home with an 80186 co-pro, complete with 1MB of RAM able to run DOS 2.1 and any PC application.

    4. LDS Silver badge

      "First time I've heard about an application for the elusive 80186"

      80186 have been used for a while, just not as common PC CPUs. Probably you got some on SCSI controllers or the like, without knowing.

    5. big_D Silver badge

      I had the story by it came from the USA... I knew exactly what he had done at that point...

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Mushroom

        The default position for those switches should always be "240"

        A 240 device plugged into 120 won't work well, but it shouldn't explode.

        1. HellDeskJockey

          Default at 240. Many techs on the other side of the Atlantic would be cursing you. "My new computer doesn't work....."

        2. anothercynic Silver badge

          @Antron

          But a 120V device plugged into 240V does...

        3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          The default position for those switches should always be "240"

          But won't be if the home market is 120v (and they haven't sold many in a 240v country). Why make your existing customers have to flick the switch in order to make it easy for some furriners?

      2. MAH

        I've done the same thing but not cross country..migrated a clients environment to a true datacenter with 208V PDU's and one of their remote "workstations" got plugged in and same pop, immediately followed by crap....

        As soon as it popped I realized I needed to move that stupid little switch...luckily it was same thing..swap PS and away we went...

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        I knew exactly what he had done at that point..

        Likewise. Especially more or less since the same thing had happened to us - just got our first shipment of brand new (386?) desktops directly from Taiwan.

        We were used to buying stuff from UK vendors and so didn't bother checking the power supply settings. Cue one whole benchful of new machines going pop..

        (Supplier eventually agreed to replace those machines - about 30% of the rest of the first batch and the next batch were DOA anyway due to build problems and our account rep was told that the next batch had to be better (and all the DOA machines replaced free) or not only would he get no more business from us but we'd see him in court. Since we were their first UK customer[1] he managed to get it sorted - but only after he spoke to the head of the company directly).

        [1] Which we didn't know about until after.. we wouldn't have touched them with someone else's bargepole if we had known.

      4. Trixr

        Yup, me too.

        Exactly the same thing happened to a Dell tech a decade later at a place I was working at in the UK. We'd just gone to a new service contract where us admins were to be "hands-off" the hardware. PSU died in a server, Dell shipped a new one from the US, followed by a shiny new tech to install it.

        We all stood around watching the new support arrangement in action... and managed not to giggle aloud when he unwrapped the PSU and installed it without the merest glance at the voltage switch position (poor dude was a bit nervous with the entire systems admin team "observing").

        After a nice bang! and the magic smoke escaping, we ended up getting a brand new CPU, memory, motherboard AND PSU.

    6. Doctor Huh?

      80186 elusive?

      Hah!

      Standard equipment on both the HP 200-LX and HP 100-LX.

      They were brilliant machines that gave me pocketable work-from-a-cafe capabilities in 1994 that I didn't achieve again until Wi-Fi, smartphones, and netbooks became widespread in around 2010. Being old-school HP devices, they both still function perfectly.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Did you just say "damp squid"?

    8. Grant Fromage

      2708 and 2716 eproms literally showed this through the little round window if arse about face on some of the less sophisticated programmers, you would look to the chip and see all the liitle wires light up dull red and go out. (If you didn`t blink.). "programmer declared chip not seen" is an accurate report. I have never done this myself, ever.

      That report leaves a promising person who just fkd up having a serious reconsider about concentration on the job rather than out of the door.

      Those chips were once very expensive, and they only have a notch on the small face in the ceramic in the middle.

      Ah, the value of the chinagraph pencil

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        2708 and 2716 eproms literally showed this through the little round window if arse about face on some of the less sophisticated programmers

        I remember someone doing this with an early 27256, in the days when those chips had far too many zeroes in the price. He was quite proud of it, stuck the chip on the wall beside his desk with its legs in the air "dead bug" style.

      2. Strebortrebor
        Facepalm

        I once inserted a 2716 backward. Got an awesome white glow through the window. Powered down quickly. Blistered my fingertip. Just for yucks, I reinserted it the right way 'round after it had cooled. Much to my surprise, the d**ned thing worked.

    9. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      > First time I've heard about an application for the elusive 80186

      I still have a BBC Master 512 here which has:

      """A co-processor board. This had an Intel 80186 processor (running at 10MHz) along with 512 kilobytes of RAM memory"""

      In the late 80s I used ISA bus SCSI Caching controllers which had a 80188 and (I think) 512Kb RAM.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's a quick way to get a new works PC...

    I once needed a newer work PC as the ancient NEC Powermate I was using was barely functioning. I took it into an empty meeting room, switched the PSU to 120v, plugged it in and switched the plug on. One extremely loud bang later I switched it back to 240v, calmly took to the IT guy and said it had stopped working and got a much newer Dell Optiplex to use.

    I found out later that blowing the PSU had also tripped the circuit breaker feeding the meeting room I was in as well as three other meeting rooms...

    1. Bob Ajob

      Re: It's a quick way to get a new works PC...

      Also was the perfect revenge for one disgruntled casual employee where I worked. They stayed late one night and switched every machine in the whole office, then arrived early on their last day to find around half their colleagues scratching their heads at not being able to start DOS while the distinct aroma of electrical burning wafted through the air conditioning. Glorious.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's a quick way to get a new works PC...

        An acquaintance was arrested and had his PC taken away by police. It was a "fishing expedition" during a long investigation of someone else - which was so far failing to produce the expected evidence of wrong doing.

        After three months they said he could collect it from an office 100 miles away - having found nothing to justify their arrest.

        A few weeks later there was a bang and flash as the PSU blew up. That's when he found that they had switched it down to 120v.

        Possibly their PC forensics people used 120v in their office for safety - maybe not....

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: It's a quick way to get a new works PC...

      Site services moved our desks around... And the floor tanks with them. They managed to somehow reconnect mine 90% from true, meaning that positive and earth had been switched.

      I had a dud old monitor and a fairly fast PC. Unfortunately, I turned the PC on first. Only the PSU blew.

      I've still no idea how they managed to rotate the tank, I thought they had safeguards to stop that happening.

      At another office, in Germany, the plugs were on the wall at window ledge height on a cable tunnel. Euro plugs have an exposed Earth wire, which means you can simply earth things or earth yourself. It also means, like UK plugs, that the earth is the first thing that connects...

      Unless you have a useless idiot wire up the plugs. 6 plugs in series, earth to earth to earth to earth to live to earth and live to live to live to live to earth to live. Over 10 years, nobody used socket 5. I was standing at with my back to the window talking to somebody, when I lost my balance and reached behind me and grabbed the plugs. Normally that isn't a problem... Normally. I managed to stick my finger into socket 5. BAM! I couldn't use my arm for an hour afterwards (I guess I was extremely lucky that that was the only damage).

      I went to the electricians and they wouldn't believe me, until they came back with me and stuck a tester on the earth prong... 240V.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The US has about 5 times as many electrical fires per capita as the UK due to their inferior power system.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      The US has to contend with Ohm's law just like the rest of us but haven't figured out how to get it on their side.

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Coat

        The US has to contend with Ohm's law just like the rest of us but haven't figured out how to get it on their side.

        Maybe us Europeans can offer some advice on the current best practice - they may resist though...

        1. b0llchit
          Coat

          Imperial current desity

          Yes, they try to do current-densities using units A/ft², whereas civilisation has progressed to A/m². The factor difference is what they get to see and smell as magic smoke.

        2. Andy Taylor

          I see Watt you did there...

        3. Chris G Silver badge

          "Maybe us Europeans can offer some advice on the current best practice - they may resist though..."

          Currently there is ample resistance but they may Volte-face.

        4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Maybe us Europeans can offer some advice on the current best practice - they may resist though...

          There's certainly potential for improvement, though perhaps some reluctance.

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          resistance is ...err... not futile....

          Maybe us Europeans can offer some advice on the current best practice - they may resist though...

          our colonial cousins cant get their heads around metric, what makes you thing they will adopt any other best working practice...

          I remember reading a story about a connector for an aeroplane that was made in America. The idiot had no clue about metric so just did the general divide by 2.5 to convert cm to inches.... kit arrived back in Europe, surprise, surprise... the damn thing did not fit...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: resistance is ...err... not futile....

            " [...] kit arrived back in Europe, surprise, surprise... the damn thing did not fit..."

            During the war it was discovered that the Imperial Yard official standard in the USA was slightly different from the one in the UK. Precision machined components were often incompatible.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: resistance is ...err... not futile....

              Because "precision machined components" are always measured in Imperial Yards, as we all know. You should see my bore gauges!

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: resistance is ...err... not futile....

            "connector for an aeroplane"

            Because as any fule no, aircraft design engineers are completely unaware of teh metrics. Especially if they are foreigners. Especially Yanks. ::rolls eyes::

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: resistance is ...err... not futile....

              aircraft design engineers are completely unaware of teh metrics

              *Cough* Beagle II *cough*

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: resistance is ...err... not futile....

                "*Cough* Beagle II *cough*"

                That failed on account of the money being made available so late in the game that there simply wasn't time to make flight models, so everythintg that went was test models and prototypes.

                The airbag in particular had been tested, failed, patched and tested again. After six weeks in the vacuum chamber it was still outgassing water (having killed a couple of pumps) when it was packed and shipped off for launch. Only a madman would have sent a _used_ airbag to mars, but there wasn't enough time to get a new one made to the new spec and it was a case of "ship it, or we'll just bolt a lump of lead in its place"

                In all likelihood the bag was frozen solid and either didn't inflate properly or so brittle due to the remainining water and beinf doled up for months that it split and deflated too quickly. Either way we were taking bets about how deep a hole it would make when it hit. The fact that it survived well enough to open a couple of panels was actually a surprise. We didn't expect it to survive the impact.

                In other words: what killed Beagle wasn't Pillinger, but the people funding it spending 2+ years dithering about handing over the money, then doing it long after the drop-dead date.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        The US has to contend with Ohm's law just like the rest of us but haven't figured out how to get it on their side

        Or, more correctly, haven't yet managed to work out solutions designed to be used by idiots, despite having the worlds greatest supply of them..

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Indeed. Halve the volts, double the current. Not good when you don't really double the metal...

      The number of electrocutions in the UK is nearly nil. With proper controls, 240V AC is not a problem.

      Long live the UK ring mains. Saves lot of copper.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "With proper controls, 240V AC is not a problem."

        We had a piece of lab kit - a radiocarbon dating system, not less - that was made in the US. All the power supplies etc. were specced for 240V so no problem there. Insulation however... A piece of steel rod, part of a handle, acquired a length of rubber gas tubing solved that.

        1. jake Silver badge

          C'mon, Dr. S, this kind of trolling is beneath you.

          If any part of the external chassis is "hot", for any reason, there is a flaw in either the design or the implementation. Or the shipping practices. Has nothing whatsoever to do with the mains voltage. You know this. Why add to the noise? Whoring for thumbs?

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: C'mon, Dr. S, this kind of trolling is beneath you.

            If any part of the external chassis is "hot", for any reason, there is a flaw in either the design or the implementation.

            Not necessarily hot but definitely giving a tingle that shouldn't have been there, hence the extra insulation. Having a satisfactory solution - and enough other problems - we never investigated further but put it down to insulation good enough for US mains not being good enough for UK.

            In elfin safety terms in that lab it was relatively minor. One research student nearly burned down the lab twice. SMBO made analar meringues - at least the sucrose was analar - in the same oven we used in the open lab for evaporating benzene off of samples. Another drying oven ended up with no fan blades: the HCl content of what was being dried had eroded them. And it took me years to realise why one sink had always leaked: the HF that was sometimes disposed of in it had dissolved the glaze.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: C'mon, Dr. S, this kind of trolling is beneath you.

              "giving a tingle that shouldn't have been there"

              You're lucky nobody got killed. Clearly there was something wrong with the unit. Insulation (even the cheap-assed crap that came out of Japan/Taiwan in the '70s) would never have broken down at a mere 240 volts. I take it nobody in that company ever played the HiPot game?

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: C'mon, Dr. S, this kind of trolling is beneath you.

                "Clearly there was something wrong with the unit."

                Isn't that what I've been saying? But not Japan/Taiwan in the 70s but the US in the '60s. Although it was a "product" it was probably a built to order job, maybe even a one-off. It's at least 40 years since I set eyes on the beast and I'm trying to rack my brains as to what the handle was actually on. I think it might have been a component that we eventually replaced with our own design, in part because it was the weakest link in terms of trying to get it to hold a vacuum.

              2. imanidiot Silver badge

                Re: C'mon, Dr. S, this kind of trolling is beneath you.

                The HiPot, for when you want to make sure something is buggered!

              3. Symon Silver badge
                Holmes

                Re: C'mon, Dr. S, this kind of trolling is beneath you.

                "giving a tingle that shouldn't have been there"

                There's something wrong with the earth connection on that unit. If it's not wired up, the class Y capacitors will conduct enough current to make the tingling sensation.

                1. KroSha

                  Re: C'mon, Dr. S, this kind of trolling is beneath you.

                  Macs are tingley. If you use the "plug only" adaptor for an Apple product, there's no earth connection (even in the UK). If you have the extension lead, there is. I've had several people at work complain that their Mac feels fuzzy. I get it on my MBA if I don't use the extension cable, which I always do now.

                  1. defiler Silver badge

                    Re: C'mon, Dr. S, this kind of trolling is beneath you.

                    Macs are tingley.

                    Same with the Surface Pro 3 I'm using just now. It's a figure-8 mains cable, so it doesn't have an earth.

                    A mate of mine had a Philips DVD player. Metal shell, but marked as "double-insulated". He kept getting shocks off that, and when tested it came out above 100V...

      2. jake Silver badge

        "Long live the UK ring mains."

        Like the rest of the civilized world. Uganda, Indonesia, Singapore, UAE ... Was there anywhere else? Oh, yes, China, well known for their safe and sane wiring practices.

        1. DiViDeD Silver badge

          Re: "well known for their safe and sane wiring practices.."

          In rural Thailand, it seems like the normal procedure for getting lectric to the house is to go up a ladder, armed with 2 cables terminated in crocodile clips, a pair of rubber gloves and shitloads of insulating tape. You snarf the overhead power lines with your croc clips and liberally swathe the resultant connection with insulating tape. It was always interesting to watch the lumps of tape unravelling during rainstorms, although I understand there's a fuse somewhere to deal with any issues.

          Probably just the one fuse.

          1. Olivier2553

            Re: "well known for their safe and sane wiring practices.."

            "In rural Thailand,..."

            It's changing. You now need an inspection check before your new house can be connected to the main power distribution, and proper electrical panel, with earth, earth leak breaker, etc. is part of the requirements.

            How thorough may be questioned, but checks are supposed to exist.

            1. Alistair Silver badge
              Windows

              Re: "well known for their safe and sane wiring practices.."

              "In rural Thailand,...

              How thorough may be questioned, but checks are supposed to exist.

              A relative has recently moved to Thailand, I think you meant to spell that cheques.

        2. Archivist

          Not Singapore

          Although Singapore uses connectors similar to the UK's I believe they use radial mains, not ring.

          This is supported by some professional equipment supplied from Singapore with locally approved 3 pin plugs that did not have an internal fuse capability.

          Not sure about the others mentioned.

    3. jake Silver badge

      "The US has about 5 times as many electrical fires per capita as the UK due to their inferior power system."

      Cite? Or pure unmitigated bullshit?

      (The only stats I can find are for total fire deaths; WHO says in 2010, the UK had 0.75 deaths per 100,000, the US 1.11)

  4. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Back in the late 90s when i used to work for a Schools IT dept we had loads of Fujitsu PCs where the PSUs suddenly started going pop.

    it wasn't until a bit more of a close inspection that we realised that the little darlings had been flipping the switch on the back of PSU from 230 to 110V.

    Eventually we had to go around every PC with a hot glue gun and glue the switch in place. We ensured that the next model of PC we bought didn't have the switch on the back of the PSU to avoid it happening again.

    1. Waseem Alkurdi

      When we were at school, I remember seeing the IT crew dismantling the PSUs themselves and removing the 120/240V switches. Hot--glue guns are a really simpler fix!

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        " Hot--glue guns are a really simpler fix!"

        Until one of the little darlings prises the glue off with a screwdriver.

    2. Mr Dogshit Silver badge

      That happened to me

      I was a field service engineer and the kids in a school in Bedfordshire managed to figure this out. We quickly swapped the PSUs for a flavour without the red switch, but never found a solution to them stealing the mouse balls.

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Go

        Re: That happened to me

        "but never found a solution to them stealing the mouse balls."

        Oh god, I had totally forgot that we used do that! (Dont worry it wasnt your school Mr D.).

        Admittedly, when the course content is to the level of "this is a monitor, this is a keyboard" to a bunch of 15 year olds who have chosen to do a Computing Studies course, you kind of have to accept there going to find some way to amuse themselves...

        1. Flatpackhamster

          Re: That happened to me

          Terrible trouble with mouse balls at the schools I worked at to. The glue gun to seal the mouse ball in worked well, or making a screw hole and putting a screw in. By 2003 when I ran my own school IT department I ordered a wholesale switch to LED mice which by then were just about affordable for a school.

        2. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: That happened to me

          "a bunch of 15 year olds who have chosen to do a Computing Studies course"

          Is it really a surprise when in the late '80s Computer Studies (you have a 32KB computer with about 20K free memory, write a database that can cope with at least two hundred records of about 700 bytes each, to be accessed in a manner to be defined but not sequentially) somehow morphed into Information Technology (this is a computer, computers are complicated, this computer runs a special program called a database, databases are complicated)? While nobody blew the power supplies, they certainly messed with the network. The few students (not faculty) that kept the system running since the dumbing down also replaced competent teachers with morons, kept a healthy supply of line drivers to swap in as needed.

          I was one of the "good" (haha) students, if only because of an unhealthy addiction to Chuckie Egg... If the machines didn't work, then neither did Chuckie, and that would lead to a miserable depressing weekend with nothing to do after The Chart Show.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: That happened to me

            Is it really a surprise when in the late '80s Computer Studies

            <Grump>

            I wasn't allowed to do A-level Computer Studies since I hadn't done O-Level CS. I pointed out that I'd been coding (in hand-assembler no less, thereafter in BBC Basic) since I was 12 and offered to take the O-Level paper to prove it.

            School wasn't interested. So, in revenge, I managed to fail A-Level Chemistry and Physics - just to spite them (honest!). I managed to scrape a pass in A-level Biology though. I ended up going off to college to do BTEC Certificate in Computer Technology (which I passed with distinction).

            </Grump>

      2. Dave K Silver badge

        Re: That happened to me

        At my school, the solution was to glue the little rotating cover in place so the mouse ball couldn't be removed. Of course the downside is that once the mice get clogged up with grime, you need a screwdriver to disasemble the thing in order to clean them. The school rarely bothered, so the result was lots of awful mice where getting the cursor from one side of the screen to the other was a challenge in its own right.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: That happened to me

          "The school rarely bothered, so the result was lots of awful mice where getting the cursor from one side of the screen to the other was a challenge in its own right."

          But excellent hand/eye co-ordination training, a valuable core skill!!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: That happened to me

        I worked for a County Council at about that time and we ended up[ super gluing the retaining ring for the mouse balls in place for school use. It was a lot cheaper replacing the mice when they got too gunged up for the mouse to work that replacing them when the balls were stolen.

      4. Criggie

        Re: That happened to me

        I remember drilling a small pilot hole into every new mouse so that it cleared all the important parts, and then screwing in a small countersunk machine screw that had been dipped in plastic adhesive.

        That was to stop the darlings who carried screwdrivers in their schoolbags.

  5. The curmudgeonly one

    Long ago I went to a demonstration of this new thing called a Macintosh. Allegedly the first mac in Christchurch (NZ) - at least that what the noise was all about.

    Cue curtains, protracted un-boxing, "wow, look at that"....

    Plug it in, poof! Same issue as in the story.

    Ten days later I went to another demonstration, at another company, of the first WORKING Macintosh in Christchurch. Ended up managing at site with hundreds of the damned things.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Well, the name's a fruit so maybe they got a bit confused about currants?

      Mine's the Macintosh-->

    2. Criggie

      Was that Magnum or Apple Ed?

  6. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    FAIL

    Lightning icon required =========>

    After reading an article in a magazine I tried to convert a valve powered TV into an oscilloscope. It was going quite well until I noticed that one valve was entirely glowing red. At this point I decided to switch it off and chuck the whole thing out. There's too many volts in those damn things!

    And that expensive marine radio with smoke coming out was like that when I got there, definitely not me , nope!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lightning icon required =========>

      "It was going quite well until I noticed that one valve was entirely glowing red."

      That was the nice thing about valve electronics. A red anode was a warning from which you could recover. Resistors could burn up in an identifiable position without causing any overall damage to the circuit. Spectacular sparks - and a noxious smell - from metal oxide rectifiers when overstressed. Big electrolytic smoothing capacitors dangerously exploded like mortars if you forgot to rate them at 1.4 x RMS voltage of the transformer.

      The new-fangled transistors were less forgiving. They didn't even emit magic smoke - they just died.

      EF91(?) valves could be driven quite hard in low power 160metre transmitters. They had the fascinating characteristic of developing a blue glow which danced with the applied amplitude modulation.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Lightning icon required =========>

        "A red anode was a warning from which you could recover."

        We had a valve PA system (mono) in our hall of residence using a pair of 807s. Periodically it would go unstable with the familiar red anode syndrome. Simply swapping them round didn't work 807s were expensive on student finance in the early '60s so I bought an extra one. I then swapped one of the old ones for the new one. Periodically the same problem would reoccur and I then swapped them round again to get a stable combination.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Lightning icon required =========>

          " Periodically the same problem would reoccur and I then swapped them round again to get a stable combination.

          IIRC The cure for parasitic oscillations in a valve HF PA was to fit something like a 47ohm resistor with a few turns of wire round it. However - if you already had one in place - the advice was to remove it.

          The recommended test for parasitic oscillations in such amateur rigs - like my war surplus Bendix - was to put a small neon bulb near the PA coil. If it glowed red it was ok. If there was a trace of violet then there were probably parasitic oscillations.

      2. Archivist

        Re: Lightning icon required =========>

        Indeed I remember EF91's blue glow :)

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Lightning icon required =========>

        The new-fangled transistors were less forgiving. They didn't even emit magic smoke - they just died.

        In the early 80's I went through a phase of testing how much current/voltage a standard 12v transistor could take (I was supposed to be doing my AO-Level Electronics but that was boring..).

        I managed to get them up to 240v but at that voltage they tended to glow like an LED for a couple of seconds and then pop the top off with some vigour.. I gave up when the Electronic teacher discovered what I was doing and stopped me on health grounds.. (his, not mine! He nearly got a heart-attack when he saw how many transistors I'd experimented on..)

    2. SImon Hobson Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Lightning icon required =========>

      until I noticed that one valve was entirely glowing red

      Ah that reminds me of a tale told to me by a friend in the broadcast industry ...

      A colleague was sent to service/repair a large transmitter - and as described, the fault meant that one of the valves was glowing red hot. Except that these weren't tiddly little ones like in tellys, these were 'kin big things driving a 1/2MW transmitter ... Said colleague was round the other side of a rack doing some measuring or something when he heard a "big bang" almost instantly followed by the clatter of circuit breakers tripping.

      When he looked round the end of the rack he saw his apprentice crouched motionless in front of a pile of glass powder and still holding the can of freezer spray in his hand. Didn't find out if clean underwear was required. Icon suggests what had happened to the hot glass envelope of the valve when hit with the freezer spray.

      Apprentice learned the way you don't forget - don't try cooling valves with freezer spray.

      I can't repeat some of his other tales - at least not in polite company !

      1. The Oncoming Scorn
        Holmes

        Re: Lightning icon required =========>

        Spoilsport.......

        Enquiring minds want to know!

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Lightning icon required =========>

          @SImon Hobson

          I can't repeat some of his other tales - at least not in polite company !

          So come on then, repeat them for us unruly and impolite commentards... :)

    3. heyrick Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Lightning icon required =========>

      "It was going quite well until I noticed that one valve was entirely glowing red."

      The only valve TV that I ever owned was terrifying. It dropped 240V down to whatever it wanted internally by way of a big length of ceramic with wire wrapped around it. Effectively a huge resistor doing double duty as a bar heater - yes, it glowed red.

      After seeing that, I came to appreciate my mother's paranoia with televisions spontaneously combusting. Hence an approriate icon.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lightning icon required =========>

        "It dropped 240V down to whatever it wanted internally by way of a big length of ceramic with wire wrapped around it."

        Standard design in the UK for many years - together with a metal oxide rectifier. When we were scavenging old TV sets in the early 1960s it was very rare to find one with a wound transformer - and even for the early tiny screens they were relatively big/heavy brutes.

        The early UK mains electricity supply was generally about 240v - but local generation meant some areas were AC and some DC. Equipment for use with the latter could not use a transfomer.

        Domestic radios, TVs, and record players often had no transformer - but used a large dropping resistor for their valves' heaters. Special ranges of valves like the "U" series were manufactured. These all had the same heater current requirement - so they could be wired in series to reduce the residual voltage needed across the dropper resistor. The voltage drop across any valve's heater was dependent how how much power it needed at the standard current.

        The resistor method also meant that the radio/tv metal chassis was intended to be connected to the neutral wire of the mains. The power lead was therefore only twin wires. The mains plug often had only two pins - and thus a 50/50 chance of connecting live to the chassis. It was common to get an AC mains tingle from a wooden case.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Lightning icon required =========>

        Effectively a huge resistor doing double duty as a bar heater - yes, it glowed red.

        Old bar heaters were exactly that - one big coil of resistance wire coiled round a big ceramic bar. They relied on the fact that they were really, really hot to discourage people from touching the bare wires..

        Later ones coddled the users by adding a glass sleive over the wires.

        MiL had one still in the late 1980's. When she switched it on you could see the electricity meter rev up to 5000 RPM..

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Lightning icon required =========>

          "MiL had one still in the late 1980's. When she switched it on you could see the electricity meter rev up to 5000 RPM.."

          When gas boilers are banned in about 15-20 years you're going to see them again too. Heatpumps are efficient but not portable or fast to heat up.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Lightning icon required =========>

        "After seeing that, I came to appreciate my mother's paranoia with televisions spontaneously combusting."

        In later days (when infrared remotes came into vogue), setmakers started designing the mechanical power switches for only a few thousand (or even hundred) power cycles. The idea being that people would leave their sets on all the time and switch 'em using the remotes.

        They weren't counting on old habits dying hard and a lot of sets were religiously switched off every night by owners paranoid about things burning up, which eventually resulted in the less durable switches wearing and sometimes developing carbon tracks in such a way that when the sets were turned _off_, the tracks would get 240V across them and heat up. over a period of years they'd progressively get worse (and hotter) until they set the plastic body of the switch on fire (this was before brominated plastics became common) and so there was a second wave of housefires caused by TV sets - but unlike the first wave, this time it was usually happening overnight whilst the occupants were asleep.

    4. The Oncoming Scorn
      Pint

      Re: Lightning icon required =========>

      Mr Tonkin at my school managed that successfully.

      One of the old school of teachers who could do what he was teaching.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I did this once about 25 years ago, used to build servers with cases sourced from a company called ACME (No, not that one) and lo and behold it was set to 110. It was a massive bang. Never made that mistake again. Fun times.

  8. Chris Miller

    Back in the day, our Supreme Head of Information Technology arrived from the States, but forgot to bring the power brick for her laptop. Instead of ringing the helpdesk, she decided to borrow a lead from hotel reception. Luckily it fitted; unluckily it was for a hairdryer and delivered 240V AC rather than 6V DC. I'd never seen a component physically blown off the motherboard before!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I'd never seen a component physically blown off the motherboard before!"

      Bought some of the small "buck" voltage up-converters from China - up to 30v in - up to 35v out. Trying to set it up for the desired output voltage off-load was fiddly as the pot was a tiny multi-turn. In addition I was trying to hold the probes of the multimeter to the terminals. Then there was a bang and the aluminium can of the output side capacitor ricocheted off my finger. The paper contents were left attached to the board.

      On investigation I found that the output capacitor was marked "35v" - the maximum voltage the module was supposed to supply. Presumably the setting could go well over that limit. Other suppliers' apparently identical modules had a margin for error by using a "50v" capacitor.

    2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      I'd never seen a component physically blown off the motherboard before!

      You'd never lived then lad !

      My boss from a few jobs ago had worked at a local outfit that made specialist sonar equipment. One unit he described was a stack of circular boards that fitted into a cylindrical casing - with one board being the power supplies. As is normal, they'd done all they could to protect the unit from "accidents" ...

      They got one returned as "not working", and when moved there was a rattling from inside.

      Opening up the unit revealed the power supply board had zero components on it - many were rattling around the case sans-leads, some had just "vanished". Went back to the customer and asked "you didn't accidentally connect it to the 1000V supply did you ?" In that industry, they use many voltages and frequencies with the obvious scope for getting it wrong.

      The customer was adamant that they hadn't, until said manufacturer suggested it would have to get legal and they'd be suing the manufacturer of the transorbs that had exploded - at which point they admitted their mistake.

      For those that don't know, transorbs are a surge protection device that behaves a bit like back to back zener diodes - more or less open circuit up to some voltage, then they break down and become conductive thus allowing momentary over-voltages to be shunted away from the delicate electronics following down the line. But they have a limited power dissipation limit - so basically momentary spikes, not a full time over-voltage. When connected to 1000V instead of 400V - they literally exploded and the shock wave sheared all the component leads off flush with the board.

    3. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

      I'd never seen a component physically blown off the motherboard before!

      Wuss.

      At the dawn of the 1990s I worked for a company that made (among other, related, things) pole-mounted battery-powered gas-flow correctors.(1)

      We got one back because being mounted on a pole, it's out in the open and attached to a metal pipe, and this particular one ate a lightning strike. Nothing at all was left on one of the circuit boards except a few globs of "hazardous area" coating and a sprinkling of stubs of wire where individual components had been.

      Nothing.

      No components, no chips, and no traces either. Every single trace printed on the surface of the (single-layer) board had been converted to vapour.

      (1) A gas flow corrector reads input from a turbine meter(2), a pressure sensor and a thermometer of some sort, and applies calculations to convert the volume of gas back to the equivalent volume of the same gas at a standardised temperature and pressure. The Ideal Gas Law equation (PV = nRT) is surprisingly non-applicable at 80 atmospheres and -50°C.

      (2) Usually, but it might be the differential pressure across an orifice plate instead.

      1. jake Silver badge

        "I'd never seen a component physically blown off the motherboard before!"

        Telco satellite ground link. Sudden power loss. Back EMF blew a couple largish transistors. Turned the steel caps inside out, and fired 'em through the (admittedly thin) steel case of the rack mounted equipment, and then through the acoustical tile ceiling. I was in the next room, I jumped about a foot and looked around in time to see a small trickle of dust falling from the hanging ceiling. Went next door and discovered three or four satellite techs with dazed looks on their faces. Nobody hurt, thankfully. The next day I remembered the dust falling, and retrieved one of the caps from above my office. Seems it bounced off the underside of the roof and still had enough force to shift the tile when it landed. I carried it in my pocket for a couple years as a curio, and still have it in my trophy case.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Back EMF blew a couple largish transistors. Turned the steel caps inside out [...} then through the acoustical tile ceiling

          Yup. My experiments with 12v transistors (see above) resulted in a number of holes in the drop-ceiling. Mind you, the tiles were only expanded polystyrene.. (this was the mid-80's after all).

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'd never seen a component physically blown off the motherboard before!

      back in the day when CB radio was all the rage, I had just mounted my brand new 5/8 wave areal on a 20ft scaffold pole lashed to a concrete post with a few guy lines to keep it steady... It took most of the day to get it done... Lovely hot day as well, it took an absolute age to get the SWR down to a reasonable level...

      as it cooled, there was a rumble of thunder.......

      10 minutes later, the CB radio was unplugged.... Next thing there was an almighty bang and everything went off in the house...

      30 min later, after replacing all the fuse wire in the plug in fuses, most of the stuff in the house worked. TV and hifi stayed off.... and when it cot to check my radio, the floor was scorched between the end of the areal plug and the CB... i picked up the radio and it rattled and had the smell of burning ozone..

      the general consensus was that the areal had been hit and had arced across to the CB, sending a spike down the power supply, inducing a large voltage in the coil which sent a large current spike through the mains, blowing anything else that was plugged in at the time...

      fortunately the insurance spayed out and everything was replaced. Strangely enough, the areal was not damaged at all, except for a little black mushroom on the tip.... and the SWR was perfect....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "I had just mounted my brand new 5/8 wave areal on a 20ft scaffold pole lashed to a concrete post with a few guy lines to keep it steady..."

        Many years ago on HF Field Day we had a tent on a high spot on the moors. The old hands operating the key didn't want to stop when a storm threatened. However - they had to raise their feet off the ground to avoid the static shocks.

        Power was supplied from a trolley mounted Austin 7 engine driving a generator. Testing it inside the club room caused rather a lot of CO pollution.

        On another HF contest day the club was out at its rented country site. Basically an old stone farm building in a small field. The old hands had obtained some war surplus telescopic aerials. By lashing together various combinations they made this extremely long vertical aerial - in my memory at least 40 feet tall. Everyone assembled to raise it into position. Then it started to go wrong and panic started as it threatened to collapse. I think it was guyed just in time. If it had fallen in the wrong direction it would have gone straight across the village's 440volt overhead distribution wires.

        That site was only used a few times a year. In spite of the KW2000A - and the bare 1kw bulb for outside lighting - the electricity bills were always small. Then one day the electricity company changed the meter. Apparently it was so old that the rotor had acquired considerable friction. The bills were not so small after that.

        Just after the war the same old hands - then still relatively young - had heard that the government had ordered a lot of unused war radio equipment to be dumped down an old mine shaft. They drove off to see if it was true.

        Almost immediately they were flagged down by a policeman. This was regarded with some trepidation. Not only had they a tank of illegal "red" petrol - but also a revolver under the back seat. To their relief the constable asked for a lift for a couple of miles - which he did standing on the running board.

        When they arrived at the mine shaft there was a man steadily putting a sledge hammer through state of the art mint AR88 etc radio receivers before consigning them to the depths. No amount of cajoling or offers could persuade him to miss a few. The guys were heartbroken at the sight of such carnage and waste.

        RIP the old hands who took the time to teach 1960s teenagers about radio and electronics.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        the insurance spayed out

        Phew. I guess that meant that the radio never heard the hiss of little radios then?

  9. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Hallmark of a good BOFH - other people's electronics make amusing biggenbangs :)

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "other people's electronics make amusing biggenbangs "

      Single ended Electrolytic capacitors hoked up backwards to 50V make a fairly satisfying bang.

      The cans can do significant damage though.

  10. Giles C

    Compaq docking station

    About 15 years ago, we had some compaq docking stations the size of a full size pc. So big they took the laptop, monitor a couple of 5 1/4” drives etc.

    One of them got stuck, now with these you pulled the back cover off and there was a lever for manual eject of the laptop.

    A manager had his laptop get stuck and was talked though the procedure, followed by a bang as he changed the voltage switch instead of sliding the eject lever....

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Compaq docking station

      For a moment my mind wandered back to the BOFH stories of yore and the combination of managers, live voltages and paperclips...

  11. Ugotta B. Kiddingme
    Joke

    "And a happy ending, too."

    Wow, that's great <cough>customer service!</cough>

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Switched power supplies... in 2018.

    I run inventory on my company. We still have 43 PC power supplies with the darned 127/220 V switches in the back. No fuse in sight, the cheapest China brand you can buy with money, and get a receipt/invoice for it.

    I felt almost like doing a favor to the company, putting them all in 127V, roasting them in 220V, tossing into the bin, and claim we have zero left.

  13. cdegroot

    I blew up an Alphastation's PS by using it as a luggable...

    It was somewhere mid '90s, and my employer sent me to Redmond from .NL where I lived to join some sort of Microsoft hackathon. Laptops were woefully underpowered back then, and I had this sweet AlphaStation from work on which I just installed OSF/1 and a nice development environment, so I decided to (carefully) toss it in my suitcase. Also, it felt just right to bring a Unix machine into the lion's den ;-)

    At Microsoft, they quickly supplied me with keyboard and monitor, and a network cable ("this is a T3") and a power cable later, I was ready to start work. If it would have turned on.

    Needless to say, putting the power supply switch to 110 did the trick.

    Needless to say, not putting the power supply switch back to 220 when I came home two weeks later did the trick of letting all the smoke escape from it. Never felt so silly.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: I blew up an Alphastation's PS by using it as a luggable...

      not putting the power supply switch back to 220 when I came home two weeks later did the trick of letting all the smoke escape from it

      On the plus side, you didn't infect your nice clean work environment with Windows cooties :-)

  14. Morrie Wyatt
    Flame

    And in a similar vein

    My father used to work for the now defunct "Vinten Communications".

    They had one "wiresman" who was absolutely meticulous in his wiring. If a wire entered a loom at a particular location, you could be certain it would come out at exactly the same location at the other end of the loom.

    So this fellow was always assigned the new prototypes, as his attention to detail made any necessary troubleshooting of the new prototype so much easier.

    One day after he had finished assembly of one such prototype unit, the staff gathered around to watch it fire up for the first time.

    The power was switched on, and after a few moments smoke started wafting out of the prototype.

    The wiresman's face slowly turned white as the smoke billowed forth.

    Unbeknownst to him, the staff had hidden some paper drinking straws taped end-to end into the back of the unit, with one of the staff hidden away at the far end of these straws, blowing cigarette smoke down the straw. Fortunately for the poor wiresman, one of the observers couldn't hold a straight face for too long, exposing the practical joke as everyone cracked up laughing.

    Strangely enough the poor wiresman was not amused.

    So Douglas Adams was right, even before he wrote that "what they really couldn't stand was a smartarse."

    Icon? Well where there's smoke...

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: And in a similar vein

      Then there's the "party poppers" attached to rackmounted equipment. "popper" fastened to the chassis, firing upwards, string tied to the removable card. Always good to enliven a sales demo when it comes to show off the "hot swap" fetaures...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: And in a similar vein

        Never mind party poppers ... Back in the day (mid 1980s), I hacked the underlying code for some networking kit we were shipping to add a command ... "fire".

        The entire command string was "set fire <node> <card number>". This raised voltage on an otherwise unused trace on the backplane, which in turn set off a squib.

        I called TheBoss into my lab to tell him that I had discovered something that didn't look right ... He came down and I typed in "set fire node 3 card 1". This produced the nice ::crack:: and puff of smoke. The Boss looked startled, and quickly typed in "set fire node 1 card 5", which produced the same satisfying crack & smoke. Followed by node 4 card 2, same result.

        Then he turned & grinned at me and said "jake, you BASTARD! ... he always was a quick study. Best boss I ever had.

        Needless to say, I had the full compliment of cards on all 8 nodes on the test network wired. No, we were airgapped, and the code didn't make it out into the wild ;-)

  15. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Saved by the power supply

    Power supplies can do a pretty good job.

    December 1997. I had just started a new business and had as workhorse a shiny new Pentium Pro (about £2k at then-price). Was working at it when - without warning - a great flash of lightning. One suddenly-dead 'puter. And being the holiday season, nothing I could do for several days 'til the shops reopened.

    Come the new working year, I take it to the shop, first thing. We try a new power supply. It works: slackware runs fdisk, all is well. Phew: I can cope with a two-figure replacement bill!

    Thereafter I had a motherboard that was visibly blackened in several places, with one corner curled up from - presumably - a momentary scorching. Yet the power supply had taken all the real damage, and the machine lived many years.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Saved by the power supply

      "Yet the power supply had taken all the real damage"

      A few years ago, it seems as if the Livebox (ADSL router) suffered a lightning strike through the phone line (perhaps as induced?). That's because although the main trip switch fired, most of the damage was evident around the Livebox. The phone plug was scorched. The router itself rattled with numerous parts loose inside. The power supply was bulging. And everything connected to the box was history - the LivePhone transmitter, a DECT base, and a generic phone. All lightly toasted. Thank God no computers were attached. I am aware of the risks of lightning so it's purely WiFi here in order to air gap machines as much as possible.

      It was amusing calling Orange support to request a new Livebox. The woman was reading through her script (plug it in, turn it on, tell me what lights up) and she was starting to get a bit wary when I was asking her about the potential liability of instructing me to plug in a clearly burnt out power brick. In the end I held up the box, rattled it, and said "I'm a programmer so you can skip the scripted diagnostics, the sound you heard was the Livebox with bits rattling around inside, do you still want me to try turning it on?". The replacement was ordered then and there. ;)

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Saved by the power supply

      Yet the power supply had taken all the real damage, and the machine lived many years

      In my experience, the valuable motherboard usualy dies in order to protect the 25p fuse..

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Saved by the power supply

        " the valuable motherboard usualy dies in order to protect the 25p fuse.."

        That's because the fuse is only there to protect the wiring and prevent fires.

  16. dmacleo

    had sort of opposite happen to me, older ml350g1 tower that, for unknown reason, had a manual 120/240 switch on psu instead of auto sense auto switch.

    had been set at 240 and nothing worked when plugged in. took few moments to figure out what was going on as was ordered with auto switch psu. got it figured out, got it running while vendor (iirc was straight from compaq) sent correct psu.

  17. Martin
    Happy

    I used to work for a company, who had a team of engineers who used to build the most amazing leaving presents for any member of the team who resigned.

    One guy was given several boards in a rack with a keypad and display on the front. When it was powered on, a zero appeared in the display. It did not take him long to discover that this beast was actually a huge calculator. Being an engineer, the guy thought "OK - what happens if I try to divide by zero?" So he punched in 17 / 0 = .....at which point an alarm went off and smoke appeared out of the back!

  18. nevarre

    Back in my day

    In my adolescence, I had an Amiga 500 that I purchased used to take advantage of some hardware updates from the Amiga 1000. A while later, I picked up a"whisper quiet" 24-pin NX-Star color printer... and neglected to get proper parallel cables. As a typical youth, I hadn't bothered to set it up until I needed to print out a book report. As an aside, my teachers were thrilled to find out that I was upgrading from my old IBM PC Jr thermal printer. The paper felt gross and at least two of them had to ask for new copies of various assignments because they left the paper sitting on a window ledge...

    Anyway, in a fit of desperation, I plugged the printer into the serial port. The Amiga displayed a glorious 4096 colors on my color monitor all at once and then... nothing. Luckily (according to my memory) it was designed with a couple serial chips in sequence that were also meant to act as fuses in case someone did something stupid with them. I was in a users group at the time. A couple members of the users group were repair techs and charged me parts only for the repair... and about two years of ribbing. The first meeting after my repair included an explanation of the difference in parallel and serial in painful detail.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Back in my day

      "explanation of the difference in parallel and serial in painful detail"

      If you don't mind me asking - what did the Amiga consider to be a serial port? Parallel works (usually) around 0V/5V, while serial works at nominally swings larger than -3V/+3V (and anything in the region of 6-12V either way is entirely normal). So I'd have thought that you would have been more likely to kill the printer than the computer?

  19. The answer is 42

    A steady job

    A relative worked at Fylingdales early warning system in the 70s. He had a steady job replacing American transformers, as our US friends tested by plugging in and switching on. Some amazing kit passed through his hands. I remember a record deck with a motorised threaded shaft which carried the arm and needle from right to left so there was no distortion. Usless fact of the day- because of the Yorkshire winters they couldn't get out often so they built the biggest Scalextric track in the county/ country / world to keep themselves occupied.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A steady job

      "I remember a record deck with a motorised threaded shaft which carried the arm and needle from right to left so there was no distortion."

      Bought one of those many years ago ("Sharp"?) from a charity shop to transcribe an elderly neighbour's LP records to cassette tapes to make them easier for her to handle.

      A wonderful gadget. It was a tray loader - with two cartridges so that you didn't have to turn the record over. Very useful when transcribing to a tape without needing manual pauses halfway through. A clever trick to play the record upside down.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: A steady job

      "a record deck with a motorised threaded shaft which carried the arm and needle from right to left "

      Revox and B&O linear turntables were available in your local highstreet in the '70s. I bought mine (Revox) in Harrogate in roughly 1978. Was more trouble than it was worth. Traded it for a Garrard 401 ... which still works.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn
        Unhappy

        Re: A steady job

        I remember feeling quite gutted after buying my first Sharp record player, radio & cassette player when the vertical one came out 6 weeks or so later.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had a young L(USER) come in one day back when the changeover from ISA to PCI video card slots was almost complete. He needed a video card for his old machine and was quite indignant when I asked if he was sure he needed an PCI video card, rather than possibly an ISA.

    Why he was a fine upstanding young tech savvy person for a local major electronics firm who obviously would know what he needed, what a stupid question from an late 30'ish old fart like me. I sold him his expensive PCI card and sent him on his way.

    Well, when the card would not fit the ISA slot properly, for some reason he turned it backward and forced it in, pressed the power button on the machine (he ran his video cable in through another open back plane slot to the card I guess), and suprise! - smoke, puff, flame, boom - every component in his machine fried, except for the video card!

    $1200+ of his mommy's money later, he had a rebuilt computer, and he never graced our doorstep again.

  21. J. Cook Bronze badge

    Hmmm... we still have a couple machines with manual 120/240 switches on them; they are old, old industrial PCs (i.e., the processor is on a card, all the other cards slot onto a backplane board). the company that built them are in the process of end of lifing them as their customers finally move into the current century.

    We had one fail on us, and the replacement was sent out... with the voltage switch set to 120. made quite a nice bang when it was plugged into the 208v power strips in our data center.

    Then there was the tech who was installing Dish TV receivers, and didn't realize that none of them were auto-ranging until about the third one went bang instead of just quietly venting magic smoke...

  22. PhilipN Silver badge

    36 Mb hard disk

    Luxury!

    When ah were a lad ......

  23. DwarfPants

    LIF Sockets, I guess the Low is relative

    I once had the pleasure of adding a math co-processor in a LIF socket. I ended up taking the board out putting it on a pile of paper and leaning on it with all my weight. It worked but something I decided I would never do again. Hurrar for ZIF sockets.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019