back to article Abracadabra! Tales of unexpected sysadmagic and dabbling in dark arts

Congratulations, Reg readers – you've made it through the week, and those of you in England and Wales are now headed into a three-day weekend. To celebrate, we've got a bumper edition of our weekly On-Call column of tech support crises. This time, it's a selection of tales from sysadmins who looked to the "dark arts" to fix …

  1. tip pc

    Case sensor

    Oh Timmy,

    probably a case sensor that needed a bit of persuasion that the case was closed before powering up.

    My other halfs iPhone screen & touch sensor has been misbehaving. i gave it a few taps in the right place and it worked flawlessly for a couple of days. I'm just hoping its misbehaving when she takes it into the apple store and they don't fob her off with my fix!!!

    1. Ogi

      Re: Case sensor

      Once I did the same thing with a tower box, but it involved a fist bang on the top rather than a mallet.

      The PSU fan was on its way out, and would get stuck when the machine was turned off for an extended period of time. So when someone turns off the PC and leaves it off overnight, in the morning the PSU fan won't spin up unless you give it some taps to get it started ( I guess the PSU would detect the fan not working, and cut out to prevent overheating/fire hazard).

      The PSU was mounted at the top of the tower, so the lazy "fix" was to power on the box and thwack the top of the case and get the fan spinning, after which it would work until left off for a few hours.

      Fun fact was you had to get the timing right as well. If you wait too long before the power on and thwack, the PSU would cut out before the fan started spinning. Likewise you power on and thwack too early, the fan hasn't been powered up and won't start spinning, and then it would cut out. So for those not in the know of what the problem was, it seemed like a magic touch. Hearing other people in the office thwacking the box before they would come and ask me to do it was quite funny.

      It was a "low priority" fix, primarily because the desktop was scheduled to be replaced in the next hardware refresh, and the PSU replacement was a fiddly job, involving removal of the motherboard to get the PSU out.

      This kind of fixing is quite common, so much so it even has its own term "Percussive maintenance", which I first heard on a (now old) comic:

      http://ars.userfriendly.org/cartoons/?id=20010326

      1. Roger Greenwood

        Re: Case sensor

        "Percussive maintenance" was also known as "Gentle Persuasion" round here. Any large heavy object will do.

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Case sensor

          I've often found with faults like that you dont even need the violence, sometimes the machine just fancies a walk around the building with you and when you get it to your workbench to start invasive surgery the machine will get all squeamish , start working perfectly and demand to be returned to its user.

          If you're in a hurry a good slap around the casing will often persuade the lazy **** to get back to work without the walk. (the pc, not the user)

          1. Tenkaykev

            Re: Case sensor

            Not Computer related but one of the engineering companies that I worked for had a Refrigeration department which did installs and maintenance of commercial equipment and the occasional domestic job when work was slow.

            Some of the fridges used a coolant that would on occasion separate out and lose effectiveness. This was fixed by loading the fridge into the back of the works van and going for a drive around The vibration / acceleration / deceleration would churn everything up and hey presto one working fridge.

          2. Shadow Systems Silver badge

            At Prst. V.Jeltz, re: slapping.

            Sorry for the downvote but I want to slap the user instead. Let me slap the user & I'll upvote you in glee. =-)p

        2. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Case sensor

          "Percussive maintenance" was also known as "Gentle Persuasion" round here. Any large heavy object will do.

          Such as the boss's skull?

        3. Shadow Systems Silver badge

          At Roger Greenwood, re: heavy objects...

          Like my ex boss' fat arse? =-)p

        4. tony2heads

          Re: Case sensor

          At home it is known as BFI, Brute Force and Ignorance.

          1. el_oscuro

            Re: Case sensor

            Actually, I always knew it as BFFI.

        5. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Case sensor

          May have been stiction. One batch of 1GB IBM Spitfire disks, had the wrong lubricant in the drive bearings, which would vaporize and condense on the platter. When the drive was stopped, and the head parked, it sometimes stuck to the condensed lubricant, and would prevent the disk spinning up.

          A quick shock would free the head and allow the disk to spin up.

          I believe some other drive manufacturers also had this problem as well.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Case sensor

        Percussive Maintenance:

        Frequently have customers who want us to make sure that we totally erase their old hard drives, especially if they are failing. First thing we do is ask if they want them back or not. If they don't, then lots are drawn, and the winner grabs a big hammer and takes the drive out back to smash it to pieces. Once the platters have broken into tiny fragments, the risk of anyone bothering to try and recover data from them approaches zero point zed zed zed zed zed. And then we charge them for "proper disposal".

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Case sensor

          "If they are failing. First thing we do is ask if they want them back or not. If they don't, then lots are drawn, and the winner grabs a big hammer and takes the drive out back to smash it to pieces."

          Alternatively there's this: https://youtu.be/wb3Xa1h_RqM?t=24s

          Satisfying to watch

      3. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        At Ogi, re: percussive maintenence.

        You got an upvote for the UserFriendly pointer. Cheers & join me at the tavern so I can buy you a drink! =-D

      4. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Case sensor

        "This kind of fixing is quite common, so much so it even has its own term "Percussive maintenance", which I first heard on a (now old) comic:"

        It goes back even further than that. There's a cartoon referencing it in one of my archive magazines of "Radio Television and Hobbies"(August 1964)

        Extra credits to anyone who can remember what that magazine changed its name to.

      5. Dagg
        Facepalm

        Re: Case sensor

        PSU fan won't spin up unless you give it some taps to get it started

        Had a similar issue except it was an old saab car. Wouldn't start, roadside assist turned up lent under the car and gave the fuel tank a hard wack with a rubber mallet and it started.

        It turns out the problem was the fuel pump in the fuel tank was on its way out and one of the classic problems is it wouldn't start. Bugger.

    2. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Case sensor

      I had an Apricot 486SX PC where the HD had probably got a coil gone in the motor so once in a while it wouldn't spin up. Easy enough, turn it on and just give the box a bit of a rotational tweak. Again, had to be timed right between power coming on and POST reporting no boot disk, but that wasn't too much of an issue.

      Way back we'd had an HD that was really sticky. Can you run a disk without the top of the case? We could then but only long enough to retrieve the data having got it moving "by hand".

      1. Ogi
        Pint

        Re: Case sensor

        > Can you run a disk without the top of the case?

        Heh, I used to to do that with old disks that were destined for scrapping (they were fine, but company policy on data destruction meant we had to wipe then destroy the drives). See how long they would last with the top off. In some cases pretty darn long actually (a couple of weeks of badblocks testing), assuming the area they were operated in wasn't too dusty.

        Once I had the bright idea to fit a plexiglass top to a disk and use it in my casemod (which was a completely clear plexiglass mini tower case, complete with blue LEDs, which had just come out on the mainstream market, so had to use some).

        It worked well for a year or so. but my limited fabrication skills (a Dremel and my hands) meant I didn't get the fit perfect, so dust and dirt would get in between the gaps, and the drive eventually failed, to be replaced with a standard top one. Still, it looked amazing watching the speed the arm would move around on the spinning platters, especially if it would start swapping. I found it mesmerising.

        So, in short, yes, they can work, but only for a short time, so not very useful for actual data storage/access.

        Also, modern drives with many platters stacked close together, or the ones filled with helium or whatnot, probably can't be run with the case off at all. The drives I talk about above are 40-80gb, so relatively more hard wearing than modern multi TB drives you can get.

        Icon, cos its Friday!

        1. DJV Silver badge

          Re: Case sensor

          My first hard drive for an Amiga 2000 (a Quantum 80MB, if memory serves) started failing to turn on after about 2+ years. The solution was to open up the case pull the hard disk and attached card from the slot, give it a good shake and shove it back in. That usually fixed it. It was a regular occurrence for another couple of years when I could afford to replace it with a HUGE(!) 540MB one.

          1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

            Re: Case sensor

            I still remember opening the cases of computers when "sticktion" was a problem, reversing a screwdriver and gently tapping the outer edge of the hard drive. That was on IBM compatibles. I would have been seriously upset, given how much I'd paid for them, if the drives for my Amiga 1000 (40 MB, wheee!) or A2000++(80MB) had that occur.

        2. GlenP Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Case sensor

          The drives I talk about above are 40-80gb

          What are these gb of which you speak?

          I'm going back to the megabyte days!

          First HD I had in my own PC was 20MB, stretchable to 32MB with an RLL Controller*.

          *They packed more data on the outer edges of the disk where it spins faster, ACT had done something with floppy drives that appeared to play music as they actually varied the spin speed.

          1. HandleAlreadyTaken

            Re: Case sensor

            >First HD I had in my own PC was 20MB

            God yes, same here. The version of DOS I had couldn't even conceive such a large volume could exist, so I had to split the disk in a 16 MB and a 4 MB partition.

            And I managed to play "The Secret of Monkey Island" all the way through, even though my 8086 PC only had a CGA graphics card *and* a green on black monochrome monitor. At some point in the game, the player gets a list of ingredients he needs to collect, written with multicolored characters. On the 4 color CGA display, different colors were merged, so the writing wasn't recognizable - only a few pixels of each letter could be seen. I didn't even realize it was just an issue with my bottom of the barrel display. I thought it was another puzzle, and the list was intentionally written in some secret alphabet - and cheerfully spent some quality time decoding it.

            Fun times!

      2. usbac

        Re: Case sensor

        Many, many years ago I was the service manager at a local computer store.

        One day we had this very nice older gentleman come in with a really old PC. He was an accountant, and (you can all see this coming) had no backups. He was about in tears. There was something like 15 years of his clients records on the hard drive that just failed.

        We mentioned the option of sending in the drive for data recovery. In those days there were only two reputable companies in the US that did data recovery, and the bill usually ran between $5,000 and $15,000. He told us that he couldn't possibly pay that kind of money (this was in the early 90's).

        I told him that I would take a look at the drive, but that we didn't have a clean room, and we might make the drive unrecoverable by opening it. He told me to go ahead and try.

        It seems that somehow the drive managed to seek too far towards the outer edge of the platters, and the heads went over the edge. Since they are kind-of spring loaded, they were stuck. So, I very gently spread the heads apart and slipped them back onto the platters. What do you know, the drive worked again. The fact that I opened it in a dusty back room meant that the drive would not run very long, but it ran long enough for me to get the data off of it.

        We sold him a new drive, copied his data to the new drive, and he was off and running. The joy on that man's face made up for a lot of the BS from cranky customers we otherwise had to put up with! I kept a copy of his important data in our safe on a zip disk for quite a while, as I figured that even after this event, he would never back up his data.

        1. Just An Engineer

          Re: Case sensor

          In the WAAYYY back in the day, you did the same with the Sparc IPXs and IPCs. If for some reason the system was shutdown over a weekend, you did not hit it with a mallet, you dropped it on the desk.

          It seems the lubricant used on the drive spindle would congeal when it cooled off, specially if the system was a couple years old, so a good slam on the desk top while powered on would crack it free and it would boot up nicely.

        2. Alan W. Rateliff, II

          Re: Case sensor

          "even after this event, he would never back up his data."

          Pretty safe bet. I am rather impressed you were able to re-load the heads without damaging them, or them already being damaged by seeking off the edge of the platter. I am also curious as to what kind of error or event would cause a seek off the edge.

          1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

            At Alan W. Rateliff, II, re: head crash.

            On a clear disk you can seek forever. =-)p

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Case sensor

        "the HD had probably got a coil gone in the motor so once in a while it wouldn't spin up"

        HDD motors have very low torque. The cause was a little wierder than that - called "sticktion" by many.

        Grease from the motor bearing would get past the end seal, vaporise and deposit on the HDD platters. It wasn't much, but it was _just_ enough (when cold) to make the parked drive head (they used to park on the drive platter, not off the edge) stick to the platter(*). Of course this only happened when the head settled onto the deposited grease vapour when warm.

        Giving the drive a sharp twist on the platter axis was usually enough to jar the head loose and allow the drive to spin up, but people would do all kinds of violence to get them spinning(**)

        Startup friction is always a little higher than moving (going from stationary to moving friction before the heads get airborne) and makers used to pulse the drive motors quite hard to ensure they'd start but as drives got smaller this got less practical to do. Quantum's early 1990s 40MB scsis (used in Macs) were pretty notorious for this - probably pushing awareness into the mainstream.

        (*) Sometimes they'd really stick hard to the platter, and then the spinup after the "twist" would result in the unmistakable sound of heads tinkling free on their wires.

        (**) Hitting them with some kind of hammer or dropping the drives (or entire machine) was a favourite - and generally shagged bearings when overdone. Bear in mind that HDD platter assemblies have a motor at one end and are usually unsupported at the other. That's a lot of shock twisting torque on a heavy cantiliever when the drives are mounted vertically (and when horizontal sometimes the drive motors would simply detatch from the HDD body)

      4. ICPurvis47
        Boffin

        Re: Case sensor

        Similar thing happened to me when I was running the Technical Publications Department of a large electrical manufacturing company in the Midlands. We had several Xerox desktop publishing workstations networked on Thick Ethernet, and one of them developed a sticky hard drive, which wouldn't spin up when switched on. I swapped it for the HDD out of my workstation, so I had the task of giving it a slight rotational wiggle every morning, and the other user didn't have the problem any more. I also wrote a small Terminate and Stay Resident (TSR) program to install on all of the drives to automatically park the heads after a few seconds of non use, as the HDDs were not self parking in those days. As the whole department was made redundant in 1992, I have no idea what happened to all that equipment.

  2. Oddbodd

    Kudos to the guy who came up with assumed name "Timmy" for a mallet story.

    1. The Corner of Moron
      Pint

      Gal, not guy.

      I'm guessing Ms Hill gets the credit there.

      Kudos to you for spotting it though, that one totally passed me by.

      =Bank Holiday Pint

    2. Daedalus Silver badge

      Pataphysicality

      The mallet-wielder's name was probably Maxwell.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pataphysicality

        No. He would have had a hammer

        (Probably a silver one)

        1. Ivan Headache

          If I had s hammer

          I'd hammer in the morning.

          (But it still wouldn't annoy those builders with the pile-driver 3 streets away)

    3. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      >Kudos to the guy who came up with assumed name "Timmy" for a mallet story.

      I'm just very pleased that there are no pictures of him in a yellow polka dot bikini...

      What he probably needs to cover it all up right now -->

    4. Pedigree-Pete Bronze badge
      Coat

      @Oddbodd.. ref: Timmy.

      I have a wood planer called Nigel if that qualifies. :) PP

  3. Spacedinvader
    Stop

    For those in the UK...

    Isn't a long weekend up here :|

    1. Caff

      Re: For those in the UK...

      Scotland?

      1. Dave K Silver badge

        Re: For those in the UK...

        I have the benefit of working in Scotland for an England based company, so I do get the Monday off. Most others don't though

        </smug mode>

        1. Spacedinvader
          Happy

          Re: For those in the UK...

          So do I but we observe local holidays.

    2. A K Stiles

      Re: For those in the UK...

      Ah is this the trade-off bank holiday for the ever-sensible 2 day holiday at Hogmanay?

      1. WonkoTheSane
        Headmaster

        Re: For those in the UK...

        Sadly, no. Scotland had their bank holiday the FIRST Monday in August, the rest of us have to wait until the LAST one.

        1. lybad

          Re: For those in the UK...

          And going beyond that, parts of Scotland ignore bank holidays completely, meaning my work is open all year round except between 24th December and 2nd January.

          So we're open Easter Monday, Good Friday, May bank holidays, etc.

          1. Velv Silver badge

            Re: For those in the UK...

            A former employer did the open bank holidays thing - absolutely brilliant

            A) it’s really easy to get to work on the bank holiday as most folks are still at home; and

            B) you get the extra days off when everyone else is at work. :)

  4. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

    Back in 1981 one of the regular problems we had, about 1 or 2 AM in the morning, was the top AN/WSC-3(V)1 satellite communications radio going TITSUP. I'd go up there, pop the case using a big-ass flat-tip screwdriver. Every time, it'd pass all 24 of the BITE (Built-In Test Equipment) tests with flying colors. I didn't have a clue what was happening, nor did anyone else. The third or fourth time a thought occurred to me. (That does happen from time to time.) Each time I popped the case, I set that big-ass screwdriver on top of the transmitter module. So, I dutifully waited for the next time this came up.

    Popped the case, set the screwdriver on top of the transmitter module for a minute, picked up the screwdriver, shut the case and screwed it back down. I then went to the duty radioman how it was working and he gave me back "working great!" I dutifully let all the other duty technicians what I did and perhaps what it means (some coil or other magnetic component intermittent). It was added to our lore.

    [We were a rather arrogant lot, for good reason actually. We used to go to other divisions, ships, even other ports/bases to fix the unfixable. Our motto: "If We Can't Fix It, It A'int Broke!" Right on the door to our shop.]

    1. Dagg

      @Jack

      Seen this quite a few times. Equipment that fails, open the case start fault finding and the whole thing works perfectly.

      In all cases it was heat, either the object was located where it couldn't get enough air flow to cool it or one of the components was starting to be come a little heat sensitive. A can of freeze can help to sort that out.

  5. Symon Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Couldn't close filing cabinet.

    "But the fix that brought Mike the most amusement was when a manager couldn't shut the top drawer of his filing cabinet. I noticed that the bottom drawer wasn't quite closed"

    I don't think it works like that. He wouldn't be able to _open_ another drawer if any others are open. This is to stop the thing toppling over. Nothing stops you closing the doors, as our friend did with the bottom one.

    1. ObSolutions, Inc

      Re: Couldn't close filing cabinet.

      The one next to my desk does work exactly like that. Which is super annoying as, when left alone, the bottom drawer has a tendency to roll itself out just enough to activate the lock.

    2. Killfalcon Bronze badge

      Re: Couldn't close filing cabinet.

      I've had it happen to me on an older cabinet - the drawer was only slightly forwards (due to Stuff in it, I think), but enough to push on the locking bar that stops it opening, and that in turn caused the top locking bar to block the top drawer from closing.

      Might have been a flaw with the design, or just age, but it can happen like the story describes.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Couldn't close filing cabinet.

      If you can find a way to get two drawers open at once (and I suspect the office move mentioned in the story might have had something to do with that), the the locking bar that stops one from opening multiple doors does usually prevent them from being closed as well.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Couldn't close filing cabinet.

        >if you can find a way to get two drawers open at once

        Just tried that - simples. just pull them both open together. But then the locking mechanism didn't prevent either drawer being closed.

        Clearly, it depends on the design of the cabinet.

    4. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Couldn't close filing cabinet.

      That's the way they're supposed to work but it's possible to defeat the mechanism quite easily. You could open one drawer a centimetre and then open another one. Also possible to do it permanently which is what we did for a couple that were secured to the floor with heavy duty bolts. The reason for doing this was because the cabinets were older and didn't shut properly meaning one drawer would stay open and the other two were stuck shut.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    religious co workers

    Can be a problem

    Back in the day of the "I love you" virus I was working as a software developer.

    For those unaware, one delivery vector for the virus was an infected email with the subject "I love you" - an infected person would (via the infection) mail these to all their contacts.

    .. cue the inevitable deluge of "I love you" emails

    All the devs obviously treated these emails as dubious and terminated them with extreme prejudice (this was in time window when it was rapidly spreading & signature not yet in AV software so mails got through).

    .. all the devs bar the religious one, who was of the "happy clappy" type and saw no reason to be suspicious of such a subject line sent from a fellow believer

    Did we ever let him forget it?

    Obviously not (he also missed out on a pay bonus as allowing machine to get infected in such a "user fault" way was treated as a severe lack of due diligence from an IT professional & so disqualified for that yearly bonus due to lower than expected professional skills demonstrated that year)

    1. trevorde

      Re: religious co workers

      Heard a similar story, told to me as a true story...

      It was a company employing *lots* of PhD level maths geeks, who all got an 'I love you' email from the rather attractive receptionist. In spite of their collective genius, they *all* fell for it; each thinking their ship had finally come in!

    2. ma1010 Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: religious co workers

      I well remember the "I love you" virus. We had a salesman who had been trying to get this one client signed up with our company, to no avail. Then one day he got an email from them - with the subject line "I love you."

      Fortunately, our antivirus software flashed up a warning, so he came and got me before he opened it. I looked at it and quickly deleted it. He proceeded to have a fit because he thought that client had FINALLY replied to his attempts to contact them. I explained how that virus worked and eventually got him calmed down, but part of him kept thinking he'd missed some kind of sales opportunity there.

      Paris because he was about that bright.

    3. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: religious co workers

      Oh the "I love you" virus had that at a previous employer. We had IT support all over our computers cleaning them when we had an infection.. The cleaning took a long while and no one was allowed to touch their pc so we went to the pub en masse. They also beefed up our incoming mail filter to prevent it getting in again. However one day it reappeared because despite cleaning all the physical computers they didn't clean all the mailboxes. The intern one which was only used in the summer months had not been cleaned. So on the first day on the job for the new intern we suddenly had an influx of I love you emails. Sadly IT were a lot quicker at clearing up the infection and no pub time was permissable. One bloke did make it to the pub having left as soon as he saw the first email. He was called back before he could enjoy a pint.

  7. Lee D Silver badge

    People in work swear that there is a Sphere of Influence around me.

    Everything starts working once I'm within 12 feet, no matter how many times they tried all the same things. Literally, as I appear, their long-running "never works", "tried that" problem evaporates before I even see their screen or what they are typing/clicking.

    One of the best feelings, closing a ticket with "Could not reproduce, user confirmed."

    1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

      They (the devices) know that we know how best to torture them, thus their terrified cooperation.

      1. Andrew Newstead

        I don't know, I've had a few willing to go the 12 rounds with me.

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        They (the devices) know that we know how best to torture them, thus their terrified cooperation.

        I find that a mild threat like "I'll turn you into a boat anchor" usually does the trick. Seems the "Rise of the Machines" has a fatal flaw... fear of water.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Everything starts working once I'm within 12 feet

      We had a user who was just the opposite - anything that they went near would break.

      In a hotdesk environment she'd work on a PC for a while, it would develop some weird-but-terminal fault, and she'd just move to another desk. Lather, rinse, repeat. Over the course of a working week she just went around the office leaving a trail of destruction.

      1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

        That'd happen at the university, when I went back after the military, whenever I'd use one of the Macs in the computer labs. Within five minutes of starting a lab, the machines would "cherry bomb." Only thing I could figure is that some sequence of operations, in working with those physics packages, would freak when I'd be clicking along. I suppose it didn't help, for whatever reason you might ascribe, that my machines at home were Amigas. On them, it didn't matter which OS I was running, including Mac BTW, I could rapid fire away no problem.

        Thinking about it, maybe I overly terrified those poor Macs, facing someone used to a "real computer."

        {Dodging slings & arrows!}

      2. Andy A

        Physics has the celebrated Pauli effect, where equipment suffers failures when a certain person is present, even if they don't actually touch anything.

        The story is that some complex equipment at Gottingen unusually suffered a failure when Wolfgang Pauli was NOT present, and this unusual state of affairs was commented on. It turned out that Pauli happened to be changing trains at Gottingen at the time.

    3. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      It's your magnetic personality

    4. Andrew Newstead

      I had one like that when I was techying at a teacher training college. An arts lecturer (8-D) was always having problems with his machine that never seemed to manifest themselves when I got there. He was convinced it my "Aura" that fixed the fault, we put it down to "finger trouble".

    5. Tikimon Silver badge
      Angel

      That's Mechanic Effect at work

      When the balky machine realizes that One Who Is Not To Be Messed With has arrived bearing tools, they think better of it an decide to behave.

      I've wondered if users could proactively trigger this effect. I suggest they fix the machine with an angry stare and say "Don't make me call the IT department!" Worth a try.

    6. T-Bo

      Same for me - used to work at a Kodak Rapid Turnaround repair depot back in the 90's, repairing TI laptops and Laser Printers ... techs would often ask me to come over and touch a recalcitrant piece of gear so that it would start working and they could button it up and send it back to burn in ...

  8. GlenP Silver badge

    Everything starts working once I'm within 12 feet

    Only 12 feet? I managed over 100 miles yesterday! Call from user at a remote plant, the moment I picked the phone up at my end her problem went away.

    1. Alien8n Silver badge

      I've done that with a call to China once :)

      At work they dread whenever I go on holiday, I've suggested a cardboard cut-out to be placed next to offending machines but so far the solution seems to be "work on another machine till he's back". Invariably whatever the issue is fixes itself the moment I'm looking at it.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        I've suggested a cardboard cut-out to be placed next to offending machines

        I wouldnt do that, the cardboard cutout would probably work for less wage.

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          More productive as well.

          1. Alien8n Silver badge

            That is a good point, especially on a Friday afternoon

  9. Spanners Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Keyboard Overflow Buffer

    The sound made by a PC when you hold a key down long enough is recognisable.

    I had several people sure I had CCTV cameras pointed at them after telling them to take things of their keyboard before they told me the problem!

  10. DJV Silver badge

    Isn't that dangerous?

    Back in the last century while working in IT Support for a local Training & Enterprise quango, I'd been called to the marketing department to fix a "problem" wheref one of the girls had dropped a paperclip onto her large clunky-keyed keyboard and said paperclip had found itself trapped underneath a few of the keys. I started using a small screwdriver to negotiate the paperclip towards the edge in order to extract it when she said, "Isn't that dangerous with all that electricity in there?" (Remember, this WAS the marketing dept).

    "No," I said, "it's perfectly saf--"

    And then did a damn good impersonation of someone being severely electrocuted. The look of horror didn't leave her face until both I and several of the other less clueless marketeers were laughing ourselves silly.

    1. Dagg

      Re: Isn't that dangerous?

      "No," I said, "it's perfectly saf--"

      I remember something similar, work colleague was attempting to change a light bulb in a desk lamp that was still one and was asked a similar question, he started to give a similar answer. Another colleague behind him clapped his hands very loudly.

      Result was brilliant, light bulb flew across the room colleague jumped the other way and the rest of us were just pissing ourselves.

  11. David Neil
    WTF?

    The buzzing noise

    Many moons ago I was doing desktop support at a large insurance co. and a call came in from a rather irate PM who was insistent her Hard Drive was on the way out.

    Off I went, ran the full set of checks, no issue - she was not convinced, said it was making a buzzing noise and she'd had that before when a HDD died.

    I stood in utter silence as she tried to replicate the fault, nothing, not a peep.

    Happened a few more times over the next day or so, and on at least two occasions the helpdesk did report hearing a buzzing noise while she was on the phone to them.

    Off I went again, by this time fully expecting to be told how I was useless etc. and again, tested everything, and was out of options. Suggested we swap the base unit, after much huffing she agreed and as I dialled up the lads in stores there it was!

    Buzz buzz

    "See I told you it was making a buzzing noise"

    Bit of poking and there it was, a pager down behind the CRT .

    Not even so much as an acknowledgement...

    1. Giovani Tapini

      Re: The buzzing noise

      Also last century...

      I was standing the checkout queue at the local supermarket when my pager started to go off. I stood there nonchalantly while the checkout assistant stopped work and started meticulously checking the till, and every other piece or equipment for faults as the beeping was very similar to the devices.

      I remain highly amused by this incident as no one had a clue or looked round to see the pager on my belt...

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: The buzzing noise

      I take it you've since learned to speak "user".

      I wouldnt even trust a user to know what a hard drive was, never mind diagnose one by sound alone with sufficient conviction to ring I.T

      I'd be all like: "Yeah? well when it goes give me a ring and we'll replace it , and I dont want to hear that all your documents were stored on your desktop , when you have a centralised , secure , and most importantly -backed up , Home drive.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: The buzzing noise

        "I wouldnt even trust a user to know what a hard drive was"

        Most users are convinced that the "Hard Drive" is the big bulky thing with all the cables attached to it and the thing with the images on it is the "computer"

    3. swm

      Re: The buzzing noise

      Back in the days of teletypes connecting to computers our "help desk" (one knowledgeable woman) got a call and told the caller to push the buzzer release button (indicating "low paper") so she could hear better. That was the problem the sheepish caller admitted.

  12. Pat 9
    Trollface

    I had the mallet..

    I was the one with the mallet. Knowing the hardware we had would occasionally not boot due to a bios issue (updating would fix). I knew pulling the power for a few seconds and then booting would remedy the issue, but I decided to make it a little more elaborate and funny by using the mallet then making 'Timmy' put it back and get it back up and running.

  13. Flere-Imsaho
    Trollface

    The Doctor is in...

    I didn't try the 'magic' act, but I used to carry a sonic screwdriver, 10th Doctor version. I would use it when I saw an easy fix and wanted a bit of a laugh.

    1. Pat 9

      Re: The Doctor is in...

      I may have to copy that...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Doctor is in...

      Ditto. Only brought out in serious emergencies to threaten the tech, or better still in front of an audience seconds after you've already fixed the issue on the quiet....

  14. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I noticed that in our new building lobby the fluorescent light panel above each elevator door would brighten slightly when that car was about to arrive.

    I would use this to grandiosly command the elevator to appear (loud voice, arms spread, the Full Gandalf) and, when it had, step in, turn round, and say quietly to the nearest smiling person "Pray that I don't turn to the Dark Side and use my elevator-summoning piwers for the forces of evil".

    One morning I began the performance but when I turned there was a Spanish lady standing there crossing herself at me.

    Not sure whether that counts as a double win.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Thank You Mr Fat Finger

      "Piwers". Perfect.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      "I noticed that in our new building lobby the fluorescent light panel above each elevator door would brighten slightly when that car was about to arrive."

      back in analog mobile phone days my phone used to emit a couple of quiet but distinctive clicks when it was being polled for an incoming call - time enough to be ready when it started ringing.

      After switching to GSM there was a ringtone that buzzed for 5 seconds before the audio tone started.

      My employees eventually told me that some customers had commented that they were disturbed by the fact that I'd take my phone out of my pocket and stare at it BEFORE it started ringing.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        After switching to GSM there was a ringtone that buzzed for 5 seconds before the audio tone started.

        Next to not-brilliantly-shielded audio equipment, GSM phones can often induce a bzz-dt-bzzzt, bzz-dt-bzzzt rhythm for a second or so before the call comes in. Just as the ringtone is about to start it goes constant bzzzzzzzzz.

        I'm not so surrounded by dodgy audio equipment these days but I'm convinced that over the years my body has learned somehow to sense the EM - the number of times I've instinctively picked up the phone to read a message, only to have the alert tone play *as* I pick it up (i.e. it hadn't played when I made the "decision" to pick the phone up) is unnerving, and seems more common the closer I am physically to the phone.

        Amazes the children :-)

        M.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Ah, the distinctive sound of GSM

          I have on a couple of occasions announced to a cast "Don't answer that phone", a moment before one rings.

          Sadly it doesn't work with the newer kit.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Basic PFY duties

    Back in the day I was the non-existent head of the non-existent IT department at a local university. A lot of researchers got some (rather old by the time they arrived) Gateway workstations, equipped with all the non-standard-in-a-third-world-country bells & whistles, such as tape readers and SCSI disks. I'm talking '94-'95 here, and those darn SCSI disks and controller cards were darn expensive and hard to source down here. As the non-existent head of the non-existent IT department, I was granted possession of two PFYs a year, who would be rewarded with an internship pay, reduced working hours, and a crash course on everything from Linux server administration to spam filtering, proxy filtering, web/mail server administration and so on. One of my main selection criteria was they should be more adept to chatting nonsense to people than me, in order to distract the researchers when I applied percussive maintenance to the workstation cabinets to get those fricking Gateway branded SCSIS disks spinning.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Threaten it until it works.

    Back in the mid 90's I was an independent computer consultant and a friend of mine was working for a local gun shop with a shooting range.

    One weekend me and some friends went in to so some shooting and my friend pulled me to the side and asked if I could look at the office computer as it was acting up. Typically the computer wasn't acting up that day so I told him that the next time it acted up to "threaten it" until it started working again.

    About 15 minutes later we heard some yelling from the office and walked in to find my friend with his pistol out pointed at the computer threatening to "take it out on the range and put it out of his misery".

    The machine never acted up again, EVER.

    1. swm

      Re: Threaten it until it works.

      There was a story about an IBM repairman summoned to fix a 1401. An initial analysis showed that someone had put a bullet through the machine. Investigation revealed that a second shift programmer couldn't find a bug in his program and shot the machine to show who was boss.

  17. antman

    Percussive maintenance

    In the days when computers were huge and lived in air-conditioned rooms we had a machine with an array processor. I guess this was the math-coprocessor of its day. It had two metal handles and could be slid out for inpection and maitenance. Sometimes it would cause the CPU to hang and the fix was to slide it out and gently tap the chips and circuitry with a stick. I suppose the problem could have been a dry joint but whatever, it was eventually fixed by the engineers.

  18. Borg.King

    Needed a jolly

    In a former life, many a time bringing an ailing PC or printer back to base would remove all trace of the reported issue. The thing just needed a day out of the office.

    Similarly, temporary HD fixes for worn out bearings could be achieved by putting the HD in the freezer for a few hours. They'd run long enough afterwards to copy off the data to a new HD.

    1. Soruk

      Re: Needed a jolly

      I did similar just last weekend. Hard disc in a ziplock bag, with USB adapter and power connector, in a chest freezer with the cables coming out. I was able to 'dd' the entire disc without any errors, suitable for writing out to a SD card, which via a suitable IDE adapter, became the machine's replacement hard disc. The machine in question is an Acorn StrongARM RISC PC, and in all other respects it is working perfectly despite its age.

  19. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Happy

    Percussive maintenance

    A couple of years ago we went through the Surface Pro fad, with a lot of our users going "Shiny! I want one!" As a result, we had dozens of these non-repairable turds. Many were subsequently returned as they were flaky and users learned their limitations.

    One of our vice presidents had a ton of not backed up data on one that had died. After trying every little trick I knew to try and get it to power up, I was preparing to destroy it to extract the hard drive when the idea came up: "Why not beat it on the desk a few times to see what happens? What do we have to lose?" With the VP looking on, and cringing, I gave it 3 stout whacks on the desk, attracting the attention of our whole department. Sure enough, it powered right up and I began retrieving his data. It died near the end of the process and a few more whacks revived it again long enough to get the rest of the data off it.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dodgy HDDs

    Once having exhausted all (and I mean all) other possibilities for recovery I saw red and launched the horrible 6GB drive into orbit (56 foot lob)..

    Plugged it in having retrieved it from the mat and THE "(*(!&! THING WORKED!!!!

    Unbelievable.

  21. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

    ln -s /prestige /payrise

    Misdirection and listen to what I'm saying. #keepaneyeonmyhands

    1. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

      Re: ln -s /prestige /payrise

      #wevehitasnake

  22. Guus Leeuw

    Fan problems

    Dear Sir,

    back in the early days, I was tasked with rewriting the runtime library of a computer language from K&R C into ANSI C. This was on Slackware Linux using the appropriate GNU toolset.

    I was stunned to find that the assembly code written by the C compiler did, in fact, not compile into object format... And the behaviour was eratic as well, in that sometimes this file and sometimes that file would produce weird error message from gcc. We were all stunned, as the PC in question was brand new and bought only a couple of days before the problem started showing up... The odd thing was, though, once the assembly code failed somewhere specific, rerunning the toolset would make it fail there again and again until the next day, when a new problem would arise that I could not find a solution for.

    Having asked all the compiler people in the office, I was left to my own devices, and after another couple of days, I decided that the problem must be inside the PC's casing. So I removed the casing, and lo and behold, the CPU Fan wasn't spinning... A quick nudge with the top of my pencil sorted it out.

    The office manager made sure that the manufacturer (a local PC guy) came by to fix the CPU Fan... This was rather a quick job that only meant I had to go for an early lunch downstairs at the Pizza Hut (I think it was, could have been a Domino's) and wait for your man to come and tell he had replaced the Fan.

    It still spooks me when one part of a compiler toolchain cannot understand what another part of that same toolchain generates...

    Best regards,

    Guus

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    heh reminds me of a time.....

    When our manufacturing dept insisted on retaining a steam powered plate reader connected to a MS-Dos PC, disk had bad blocks but there was no budging the stubborn department to replace the old pos (they could fudge results)

    big sticker applied to PC with DO NOT SWITCH OFF (IT)

    clearly some tard switched it off (clearly blind and/or illiterate)

    fix was power pile of crap on and lift base unit 1.5" above desk, then promptly perform an engineers "release" bouncing it off the desk, bingo! it would POST until next time....

    eventually went above the dept manager to Ops director to tell them what they were putting up with, 3 weeks later plate reader was replaced at a cost of £8k........throughput doubled as did quality of finished product.

    Its true what they say, I have a building full of PhD boffins, with barely enough common sense between them to break wind in unison.

  24. Keith Oborn

    An apocryphal one

    BAck in the days of mainframes with green screen terminals - ICL as it happens, lots of mates worked there.

    User routinely complained that her keyboard added spurious spaces. Numerous engineers failed to find anything wrong.

    Last chap walked in, looked at her sitting at the desk, and said "why don't you get a cup of tea while I look at it."

    As soon as she was out of sight, he wound her chair up a couple of inches.

    Problem solved: she was short and well-endowed. Observation is the key to good outcomes!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An apocryphal one

      lmao, had a similar experience, anon because while the person aint there, i am!

      so get a call as a new super keen support admin to our logistics department to check out one of our staffs office chair (yes thats how stupid the place is) so user complains her seat keeps dropping in height when shes typing in the ERP. (thats the IT link!)

      Im standing scratching my head thinkng wtf, I sit on it (im a big 6` jock exrugby type) and all is fine.

      I look back at the user and think, hmm ok shes tall and largish but nothing too mental....

      so i ask the lady to sit so i can see if i can fathom it out.....boom i spot it immediately.....

      Her saddlebags overhang was pressing down on the extended lever.....I couldnt bear to tell her, "erm its your arse hen"

      So I sourced a different style of chair from another dept and claimed the old ones cylinder was leaking as i could see lubricant on the shaft which should be spotless.....

      Oh what a great day I had once I got back to our site support office and rest of my team!...;)

  25. cortland

    Coffee, anyone?

    This unworthy servant of the Great Ghu Hytek is known to have solved a display problem with a set-top box using what in the US we call an electric hot-plate. Without even connecting it to the mains outlet.

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