back to article Tech can endure the most inhospitable environments: Space, underwater, down t'pit... even hairdressers

Welcome back to On Call, The Register's regular reminder of just how icky things can get at the sharp, pointy end of computer support. Today's deposit into the vault of user confusion comes from a reader the Regomatic 9000 has decided to call "Guy" and takes us back a decade, to the charming city of Leeds. Back then, Guy was …

  1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Coat

    Quite how a salon employee could make it into the 21st century without knowing how to operate a mouse is an interesting thing to ponder in itself.

    Leeds.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Surprisingly ...

      ... there are people who have managed to avoid using computers for decades. I run across one or two occasionally.

      Likewise, what with the modern fetish of fondling computers (so-called "smart" phones & tablets) there is a whole generation of kids out there, many of whom have never used a mouse.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Surprisingly ...

        > there is a whole generation of kids out there, many of whom have never used a mouse.

        Our local uni helpdesk last year reported the first user who wasn't aware you have to keep the shift key pressed. Which explained why their password failed to pass them.

        1. McShufts

          Re: Surprisingly ...

          Once had to explain how to do left click and right click. They worked in uni payroll.

        2. phuzz Silver badge
          Coffee/keyboard

          Re: Surprisingly ...

          I've met plenty of users who don't understand the shift key, and instead just toggle capslock on and off to get the same effect.

          [Caps on]T[Caps off]he [Caps on]R[Caps off]egister. Used to drive me up the wall watching someone type like that.

          1. Soruk

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            My wife does that!

            Then again, as a user of a Chinese IME that takes the tap of Shift to mean "change input language" between English and Chinese, I can understand why. I've seen other Chinese people where I work do the same thing.

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Surprisingly ...

              My suggested solution is to change the keyboard layout change command to something else (my usual is alt+shift) so the shift key is back. That's usually the default on Windows, but I had the fun experience of some ancient and probably dead Linux that thought shift alone was the best key for that; well, I had that experience for about two hours. I can put up with lots of minor annoyances, but try and take my shift key and expect to be hit with a keyboard with little gentleness.

              1. shedied

                Re: Surprisingly ...

                Maybe you meant keyboard + (shift) + gentleness; unfortunately take away the shift and the gentleness goes away too

          2. keithpeter
            Coffee/keyboard

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            Routine now that one (I work in further education)

            One day soon I'll take my portable typewriter in and show them what the shift key does and why it is named thus.

            Keyboard icon: I can be a little heavy handed while typing

            1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: I can be a little heavy handed while typing

              The good news is that traditional typewriters are great for building up strength in your pinky.

              (Apologies for the inaccurate icon)

          3. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            It is, in truth, nail biting agony to watch that.

          4. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            Almost equal annoyance is those that don't know how to use the cursor keys to go back and correct a mistake, therefore rather than cursor back a word or three and change the typo, they back space all the intervening characters, fix the typo, and then type the deleted characters back in again.

            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Surprisingly ...

              A lot of techie types do this too. For a simple reason. If you type quickly enough and spot the error soon enough ( 0r move the cursor close enough), it can be easier to delete back and retype than to slide back to the right spot, because it has a lower cognitive demand.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Surprisingly ...

                When I'm writing I type until I'm done typing, then I go back and fix the typos. It's a train of thought thing. Watching people correct a page of text as they type it drives me nuts.

                On the other hand, when I'm coding, I tend to correct mistakes as I make them. For some reason, it seems easier for me. Go figure :-)

          5. jason_derp

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            "I've met plenty of users who don't understand the shift key, and instead just toggle capslock on and off to get the same effect."

            I used to type like that. My dad never bothered to tell me about the shift key when I was plunking away on the Amiga. Then in grade 5 after years of typing (being forced to learn how to program things and type before I was allowed to play games), I felt pretty smart when I was starting off typing 100 wpm. Then the kid next to me and the teacher were like "why don't you use the shift key?". I was like "what?". An early simultanelous experience of ego deflation, embarassment, and having my mind blown.

            1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Bronze badge

              Re: Surprisingly ...

              Using CAPS is not my typing style, but it has one advantage: You don't need to press two keys at the same time. Shift-T or Shit-U and so on are less stressful since you don't need to spread you hand or coordinate two hands with the right timing (i.e. shift first, then the key).

              1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

                Re: Shit-U

                Use of all caps arguably conveys a somewhat aggressive tone of posting on forums such as El Reg, and this impression is reinforced by use of the above key combination.

          6. The Dark Side Of The Mind (TDSOTM)

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            I gather you watched enough of them to get immunized. So did I.

        3. steviebuk Silver badge

          Re: Surprisingly ...

          Loads of people where I've worked still just use the caps lock instead of shift. It's slightly annoying

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            I wonder if it's because that's how the shift key works on soft/virtual keyboards on phones. For many people, even now, their only regular use of computers is at school. After that, they only ever use their phones or maybe a tablet.

            1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

              Re: Surprisingly ...

              Possible, but the use of the caps-lock key to type a single character rather predated soft/virtual keyboards.

              I probably still have a slight fear of typing on a mechanical typewriter both through fingers getting stuck between the keys and the hammers (?) getting jammed together when i typed too fast.

          2. TonyJ Silver badge

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            It isn't just the use of the CAPS key that I find vaguely annoying and disturbing, but also people who then grab the mouse and use it to click on the password box, say, rather than just hit Tab.

            1. Grooke

              Re: Surprisingly ...

              And then you find a site that tabs out to invisible fields and you curse the developer and all his ancestors. Worst if it happens between username and password, but also bad if it happens from address bar to the first useful field.

              Sidenote: the fact that F6 on most modern browsers selects the entire address field is probably the most life-changing thing I learned in the past 5 years.

              1. Baldrickk Silver badge
                Devil

                Re: Surprisingly ...

                ALT-D does that too, and is easier to reach without needing to move your hands.

                As far as shortcuts go, SHIFT-F10 is my new favourite - it brings up the context menu, useful for keyboards these days that decide to forgo the context menu key, which is most of them... which makes me [see icon]

            2. shedied

              Re: Surprisingly ...

              NOW I realize why I despise touch pads on laptops. Too many users having to resort to this when Tab could have done it directly in half a parsec. (Me? I'm the trackpoint zealot.)

      2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Surprisingly ...

        Whenever I encounter people who have managed to not learn the basics despite using computers in the business for decades & citing "I don't know anything about computers!' I feel the urge to run over them as they exit work.

        1. Mephistro Silver badge
          Coffee/keyboard

          Re: Surprisingly ...

          Well done, Sir, and good hunting!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Surprisingly ...

          people who have managed to not learn the basics despite using computers in the business for decades

          "Ah, you don't know anything about computers?"

          "No, absolutely nothing!"

          "So presumably, despite having done it all your life, you don't know anything about breathing either, so you won't mind if I prevent you from doing so with this convenient length of mouse cable..."

          1. tcmonkey

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            Arghhhh, agreed.

            I do not expect anyone to be an expert, but not knowing at least how to get around on a computer these days is like starting a job 50 years ago and saying "Oh, I'm not good with pens". Oh, really? There's the door, sunshine.

          2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

            Re: Surprisingly ...

            > so you won't mind if I prevent you from doing so with this convenient length of mouse cable..."

            "...ARRGGHH!! $&^*&^ing bluetooth!!!"

        3. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Surprisingly ...

          I'll accept that and raise you with this... people who repeatedly state that they hate all computers and can neither accept nor use them at work and they see no reason for them whatsoever. Then promptly get their (smart) phone out.

      3. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: fondling computers

        A few weeks ago whilst passing through the booking office of a tube station I saw out the corner of my eye an old woman who was tapping the big Service Status display screen (prominently displayed in all tube stations) in an attempt to find out more details of one of the tube lines which was in the "Delays" list.

        A younger woman (maybe her daughter) was desperately trying to drag her away (probably cueing "my mum is so embarrassing" posts on social media).

        She presumably was thinking that the screen worked in exactly the same way that it does on her phone.

        1. Stork Silver badge

          Re: fondling computers

          Thinking about it, why not? I can at least see how she got the idea.

          Remember, many shopping centres have large screens that work like that.

          1. 9Rune5 Silver badge

            Re: fondling computers

            Remember, many shopping centres have large screens that work like that.

            ...that are supposed to work like that. (FTFY!)

            I've lost count of the number of times I have stabbed away on one of those things, without any response. Then as I return five minutes later the navigation finally kicks in and there is an avalanche of poking stacked up.

            On a related note, at home I wall-mounted my TV so it is well out of reach of most kids.

            1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

              Re: fondling computers

              Have you tried the self-service ordering screens in MacDonalds?

              I frequently find that they just don't respond at all. I've tried short jabs, long presses, tips or flat of fingers, thumbs and even knuckles.

              I thought I had it sussed a few weeks back when I tried two fingers together, but that seems not to work any more.

              I'm thinking there is a heuristic annoyance algorithm in operation to try to drive the customer nuts, learning what people try so that it can ignore it and annoy them. Add to this the multitude of options and the "do you want to round up for charity" screens that you must traverse, and you wonder whether they want you as a customer at all.

              Maybe I'm over-thinking it. Maybe they just don't work!

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: fondling computers

                Maybe it's the Computer God/ess's not-so-subtle attempt at letting you know that at your age you should be eating real food instead of the swill they sell at McDs?

                1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

                  Re: fondling computers @jake

                  You may have a point.

                  But I'm still a wage-slave of sorts, albeit one with some control of what I do, and because of the "when I'm home, I sort out the food" rule that has apparently been set in stone (mainly by the kids when they were younger, because they preferred my cooking), when I get back at the end of the week after working an 8 hour day and a 3+ hour drive, cooking is about the last thing I want to do. It's as much as I can do to drive the UI on the McD order screen, and If I cooked, I would probably burn pans when I'm in that state.

                  I don't get that much enjoyment from the plastic food, but it's easy - the very nature of fast food.

              2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

                Re: fondling computers

                I was at the Tring Natural History Museum the other week (shameless, unrelated plug: it's great, go visit) and there was some exhibit with a touch screen built into a desk to provide more information for the curious. No matter how curious I was, it never worked for me. My daughter, on the other hand, it worked just fine for and she was swiping through the virtual map and articles merrily.

      4. Blackjack

        Re: Surprisingly ...

        Nowadays anyone under thirty is way mire5 likely to know how to use a Smartphone than a computer.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Surprisingly ...

          Anyone under 30 is guaranteed to have used PCs pretty much every day of their time at school, at least between the ages of 10 and 16.

    2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Bronze badge

      Very simple:

      "I'm a hairdresser, not a computer scientist, Jim!"

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Very simple:

        "Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor hairdresser, not a computer scientist" if you want to fit the meme.

    3. BitCoward
      Coffee/keyboard

      Bill for new keyboard...

      or at least solvent to remove satsuma juice, flesh and pith.

      1. Psmo Bronze badge

        Re: Bill for new keyboard...

        Most IT jobs the pith-take is included.

    4. Manolo
      Coat

      Former Dutch Prime-Minister Wim Kok (stop sniggering) in 1994:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30U7TJgJw_A

      1. Unoriginal Handle

        It's been going on for centuries...

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQHX-SjgQvQ

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Literally any stylist. I know plenty that operate their businesses exclusively on a mobile phone...like a Bangkok street food stall.

    6. Chris Evans

      No one was born knowing...

      How stupid the user was depends on how long ago this was. I remember someone who went on a 'computers for beginners' course at the local college a few years after mice became common.. They started off in a room with no computers and were told to go through to the next room, sit down at a computer and pick up the mouse and move it about and see what happened. So they did as told... yes they moved it about in mid air. She told me that she felt very stupid after being told she had to move it around on the desk. But my response was no, no one is born knowing that and the lecturer had assumed some knowledge.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: No one was born knowing...

        First step in any training for beginners in any field should always be the Q&A bit.

        e.g. "Does any one know what this is"? etc.

  2. A K Stiles Silver badge
    Joke

    Magic smoke

    Everyone knows the kit doesn't work if you let the magic smoke escape.

    It seems that human hair isn't an appropriate material for attempting to prevent it from escaping...

    1. Strahd Ivarius

      Re: Magic smoke

      So you forgot to add DEVICE=\DOS\NOSMOKE.SYS in your configuration file?

  3. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Might have mentioned this before...

    Closest I came to that was in the 1960 as a TV repairman, and at a customer's house took the back off a non-working TV only to be met with a cascade of coins. It seems junior has clocked his parents putting shillings in the meter when the TV went off, but hadn't quite understood the process. Many TVs in those days had a row of coin size vent slots along the top of the back.

    The real surprise was the fact that it had carried on working for so long before the inevitable short circuit occurred!

    1. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: Might have mentioned this before...

      Related technology.

      A colleague used to regale us with the doings of his son. When the VCR stopped working he called in the appropriate technician who delighted in telling him that while he was used to pulling out digestive biscuits put into the tape slot by children to "feed the little man who makes the machine work", he'd never before seen an entire salad inside.

      1. defiler Silver badge

        Re: Might have mentioned this before...

        Yep - when I worked in PC World (alright, alright...) I had a woman on the phone tell me that her toddler had put a jam sandwich in the floppy drive because the computer had been in the house for weeks and it must be hungry by now.

        Lucky for her (?) she'd taken the extended warranty, so it was covered under accidental damage. On the other hand it would have cost her a tenner for a floppy drive and 15 minutes to change it. Still, most people wouldn't even consider opening up a computer...

        1. Psmo Bronze badge

          Re: Might have mentioned this before...

          Still, most people wouldn't even consider opening up a computer...

          What if they're hungry?

        2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

          Re: Might have mentioned this before...

          So you're saying the disc drive was...jammed?

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: Might have mentioned this before...

            LONE STAR!

          2. zb

            Re: Might have mentioned this before...

            It must have been a very sticky situation.

          3. moiety Silver badge

            Re: Might have mentioned this before...

            Preserving the data.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Might have mentioned this before...

        I did mention this one before, back in 2012 ...

        Mid 1980s ... My wife tried to plug a tape into the Betamax player. It didn't work ... I was called in, and discovered a PB&J sandwich had been stuffed into the machine. Judging by the texture of the bread, and the lack of mildew, it was done during my Daughter's birthday party the day before. The Wife panicked, as she had a local "snooty, high profile" potential buyer coming in to look at a rather expensive mare that we had for sale ... the mare was housed on our Calaveras County property, but we had the tape just for this kind of occasion.

        I took the helm, suggested my wife bow out temporarily, and explained to the potental buyer what had happened, borrowed a Beta player from a neighbor, and the customer viewed the video about forty five minutes after schedule. She bought the mare a week later. No harm, no foul.

        Spring forward to a couple months ago (2012 time). The 1950's Western Electric rotary-dial telephone on my desk rings. That number is only known by family & a few select friends. There is no caller ID on that line, nor do I want it. I answer, as always:

        Me: This is jake.

        Daughter: Daddy?

        Me: (thinking "Oh, FUCK!", because she usually calls me "Pop" ...) Yes, it's me, what's wrong?

        Daughter: Remember the sandwich in the Betamax?

        Me: Yes?

        Daughter: I did that ... I thought I wanted the PB&J like all my friends, but the Albacore (Tuna) alternative that you made for the adults sounded better after one bite, and I know how much you hate wasting food ... It was the easiest place to hide it. (She's been a foodie/gourmet/gourmand since she was a toddler).

        Me: :::ROTFLMAO:: Why are you calling me over this now? It's hardly important anymore ... oh, wait ... you called me "daddy" not "pop" ... What's wrong, hon?

        Daughter: Your granddaughter just fed a chunk of mustard-coated mortadella into the DVD player ...

        1. Antonius_Prime
          Boffin

          Re: Might have mentioned this before...

          "No harm, no foal."

          You missed a great opportunity to Dad-pun it...

          :D

          (Icon appropriate - maybe...)

        2. jasha

          Re: Might have mentioned this before...

          No harm, no foal.

          [edit] Too slow...

          1. Antonius_Prime

            Re: Might have mentioned this before...

            That's OK. We all have our moment in the Sun, before bursting into flames like the pasty vampires we are...

            :)

            1. jasha

              Re: Might have mentioned this before...

              I'm more of a pastry vampire.

        3. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: Might have mentioned this before...

          I do hope you refer to that as the Bat Phone

        4. VinceH

          Re: Might have mentioned this before...

          I'm so glad I'd just finished my coffee before reading that, jake - or I would have helped quench my keyboard's thirst. I did NOT see that last line coming.

        5. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Might have mentioned this before...

          Daughter: Your granddaughter just fed a chunk of mustard-coated mortadella into the DVD player ...

          Karmic justice has been served.

          1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Might have mentioned this before...

            As the grandparent of a 17 month old (the most special young lady in the world, I might add), I'm getting a kick out of this, because my wife gets these calls from her son, and we both stifle our sniggers.

            What goes around, does, eventually, come around...30-something years later.

          2. Psmo Bronze badge

            Re: Might have mentioned this before...

            Dunno, I'd prefer jam to mustard- that's got vinegar in.

            If it works it's going to be very clean.

            1. DiViDeD Silver badge

              Re: Might have mentioned this before...

              prefer jam to mustard

              I'd prefer either to the half packet of fruit pastilles my son 'fed' to my Revox cassette deck many years ago now.

        6. This post has been deleted by its author

        7. Aussie Doc
          Pint

          Re: Might have mentioned this before...

          Thank you for that laugh. Have an Ozzie one on the house.

    2. phuzz Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Might have mentioned this before...

      "took the back off a non-working TV only to be met with a cascade of coins"

      Well, at least they had an unexpected windfall to pay you with .

      1. shedied

        Re: Might have mentioned this before...

        Customer: How much for the work?

        YOU(looks at coins): That's a good start; the actual repair will be the next item on the agenda...

    3. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Might have mentioned this before...

      Recall opening a Mac Quadra 650 in 1996 in some graphic designer's office to find something like a 2cm carpet of dust buildup inside covering everything - so much so that I could life it out in one go.A quick vacuum and the computer returned to normal operation.

  4. MarkET

    Carniverous computer

    Used to work for a small UK based micro-computer supplier in the late 70's. One of our service engineers was called out to a customer site to look at a failing production control machine. The customer was an animal to meat processing plant. You can guess the rest.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Carniverous computer

      Yes I can... but I don't really want to!

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Carniverous computer

        Well you got your dead cat and you got your dead dog

        In the middle of the night you got your dead toad-frog

        You got your dead rabbit and your dead raccoon

        The blood and the guts are gonna make you swoon

        You gocha dead skunk in the middle of the road ... &c.

        Loudon Wainright

    2. Symon Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Carniverous computer

      Spam filled the inbox?

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: Carniverous computer

        Whatever it was I'm sure it was pretty offal.

        1. Psmo Bronze badge

          Re: Carniverous computer

          Stack pudding?

          Steak and chips?

          (Intel) Silver and onions?

          1. Psmo Bronze badge

            Re: Carniverous computer

            One more :

            SteakAndKidneyPi ?

    3. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Carniverous computer

      Probably a bloody disgusting job to clean that controller... easiest is to get a new one and claim the old one's popped a vein and kicked the bucket on its way to pension meadow.

      1. Psmo Bronze badge
        Boffin

        Re: Carniverous computer

        So you're saying its....

        Mooooved on...... (sunglasses).

    4. Mephistro Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Carniverous computer

      Thanks for that!

      Your story reminded me of this one:

      I once had to visit a sausage-making factory. They called me because their new computer's keyboard didn't work. After my arrival I noticed several interesting facts:

      - The computer was placed in a big room with high roofs.

      - That room was used for hanging the sausages ("chorizos") from the roof to dry.

      - That the malfunctioning keyboard was placed exactly below one of the hooks used for hanging the sausages.

      - And, finally, that as a consequence of this, the keyboard was covered in a 1 centimetre thick. coagulated animal fat of a strong reddish hue and of a strong smell. Not a good smell.

      I think this is the only time in my professional life that I actually enjoyed telling the customer that the guaranty was void.

      8^)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ex fruity genius...

    You'd be stunned at the buildup of dust and other flotsam and jetsam that accumulated on the fans of a certain computer manufacturer....

    And if any of you smoke, let me say that I've also seen fans encrusted in a tar / dust combo: I used to see this a lot with crusty students... And the fans were so powerful on the iMacs that they'd draw smoke in and make some wonderful patterns on the polycarbonate sheets on the front.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Ex fruity genius...

      I've seen computers literally killed by cigar/cigarette smoke, with the user usually not that far behind.

      1. Andy Non Silver badge

        Re: Ex fruity genius...

        I saw the opposite once. A friend's bedsit had caught fire while he was out and the fire brigade had drenched the room. When we got there the mattress was smouldering outside, molten lamp shade hanging from the ceiling, all the walls black with soot. The desktop computer and monitor were all stained and sooty and the plastic somewhat warped. However, it booted up and still worked much to our amazement. (Maybe it had a good firewall? ;-) )

        1. GlenP Silver badge

          Re: Ex fruity genius...

          I had a DEC terminal that was in a major fire, it was the only piece of kit retrieved out of the computer room (a VAX 11/750 and 11/780 were destroyed).

          Despite the very melted case we plugged it in and switched it on from a safe distance, it campe up with VT240 OK, albeit somewhat faintly.

      2. spodula

        Cigarette smoke.

        I work at a publishing firm, Years ago, pre-ubiquitus-internet, we had a remote working setup, which was basically a program the editors could enter their data in, comments, annotations, ect, and once a week they would come into work (Or post the disks) and upload it all into the main system.

        We had a problem with one particular user who was saying her (company supplied) system was constantly crashing, so as i was relatively local and involved in writing this app, i was asked by IT to pop over than figure out what was going on.

        Once i got there and took it apart, everything was covered in a really thick tar. The buildup was so thick it was actually acting an an insulator on the CPU heatsink. Seems she and her other half smoked about 40 a day each and the poor computer having had this punishment for about 2 years had just had enough. So i took it away (After wrapping it and the keyboard in a Tarp), and after discussions with the IT guys in the car park, we decided we didnt want it anywere near the building, pulled the HD and binned it.

        She was given a new PC with strict instructions not to smoke in the same room as it...

        1. Shooter

          Re: Cigarette smoke.

          Back in the day (early to mid 90's), i replaced a fair few floppy disk (later, CD-ROM) drives that had died an early death due to cigarettes.

          Floor-sat tower computers, with fans sucking in carpet fibers and mixing them with nicotine smoke, made for a short life span for anything with moving parts. The rest of the computer usually survived a bit longer, but not much.

          I was quite pleased when smoking in the office was outlawed!

        2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Cigarette smoke.

          I once worked in the pub and club industry. Before the smoking ban the foul state of the systems that we deployed and supported was something to be seen (and promptly purged from mind if sensible). These systems sucked in dust, sweat and tobacco smoke and combined them into a foul, sticky hairy mess. The cases also usually wound up brown rather than the 'orrible cream colour they started (later we speficied racks to be deployed with proper filters, these had to be cleaned weekly). The fans and the motherboards of the systems were usually coated in a sticky, hairy tobacco smelling mess that somehow most systems survived for a surprisingly long amount of time. It generally took overheating, either directly of components or through fan failure, to finally kill them. The PSU was usually more susceptible to failure through shorting than the motherboards.

    2. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: Ex fruity genius...

      At one place I started work at, the mouse was very sluggish. Opened it up and removed the ball and was left wondering whether to attempt to clean out all the dirt or plant a flower in it.

      1. Spanners Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Ex fruity genius...

        I don't know whether they still have them but Glasgow University Library used to have a bunch of Macs (?SE?) for people to use. I once saw a student there, in a Bourka, take a misbehaving mouse and clean the ball on her her thousand year old outfit.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Ex fruity genius...

          Thousand years old? I'm fairly certain that Bouřka was made in 1968 ...

    3. Philip Storry

      Re: Ex fruity genius...

      Back in the 90's, I worked for a company who had a major tobacco seller as a client.

      The tobacco company's offices in London simply had packets of free fags lying around. Not packs of 20 - the actual strips of packs of 20. Everyone in that office smoked. And smoked a lot. Because they weren't paying for it (financially, anyway).

      We had staff who refused to go back to that site. Everything was covered in a patina of smoke and tar. EVERYTHING. Your fingertips were yellowed after a visit. Your clothes would need a thorough wash. Some people even reported wanting to shower after a visit, so pervasive was the smoke and tar. It was simply disgusting.

      We were only supporting the email system, but we spoke to the company who supported the PCs occasionally. Apparently, the PCs had a lifespan of around a year before the tar buildup killed them. They'd given up trying to clean and resurrect them, not because it wasn't possible, but because it was simply too time consuming and too disgusting for the person trying to do it.

      I've never smoked, so I'm biased against the habit. But even our MD - who liked a fag and often had a pipe going whilst in the office - thought that their office was a bit too smokey.

      It was a site I dreaded. When we got remote support capabilities and I could simply hop onto the server without visiting, I was incredibly happy.

      1. keithpeter
        Flame

        Re: Ex fruity genius...

        One of the great advances that has occurred over my working life is the advent of smoke-free workplaces. Your experience was the *norm* in many places in the 1970s. When I worked as a messenger in Liverpool in the mid 1970s there were offices that appeared to have their own internal fog and ceilings that were honey brown (having been painted white).

        1. Mephistro Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Ex fruity genius...

          When I visited Ireland around 1980, I flipped balls when I discovered that smoking was still allowed in Irish cinemas. Nowadays I wouldn't watch a film in that kind of place for love or money, because, you now, Pyrophobia*.

          Note*: Basically, the irrational fear of dying in a fire. ;^)

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: Ex fruity genius...

            Dying in a fire is a rational fear. Trust your instincts on this one.

        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Ex fruity genius...

          One of the primary schools I used to visit ( for my non-IT part of my job) had a head and bunch of her cronies that all sat in the staffroom together to smoke.

          Said room was horrible for the many non-smoking teachers. Which in effect created an unofficial management team of smokers.

          I'm pretty sure that happened in all sorts of other places too.

          1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Re: Ex fruity genius...

            I remember the staff room at my secondary school having its own cloud system around ceiling height caused by the manic smoking habits of the teachers. Should they (rarely) open a window it looked like the place was on fire the amount of smoke that came out.

    4. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Ex fruity genius...

      Opened a PC that was in a bar acting as a POS.

      I sweared, but it did not help, the machine stank.

      So glad I don't do these sort of jobs anymore, it is somebody else's problem now.

      1. Steven Raith
        FAIL

        Re: Ex fruity genius...

        The future, with electro-fags, has it's own risks.

        I used to vape heavy VG liquids in a large atty at low nicotine strength, typically 80-100% VG + 3% nic, does the *very* thick clouds.

        Eventually, the PSU popped. The VG had condensed inside the PSU, then when warm, slipped down into the transformer. POP.

        So it didn't reek of smoke, but it still killed the machine (or more accurately, the PSU - a replacement PSU fixed it).

        I've sinced switched to high nicotine, 'lighter' liquids (50/50 PG/VG - mostly for vaping subtly in the office, and I've come to prefer it) and the buildup is now non-existent.

        Just a heads up for the Reg vape collective, be careful where you blow your clouds!

        Steven "Should have seen that coming, really" R

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Ex fruity genius...

          "but it still killed the machine"

          And yet all you addicts STILL claim your filthy exhaust is harmless to other humans!

          1. Steven Raith

            Re: Ex fruity genius...

            Humans aren't machines. Well, except those made by skynet.

            At least when my machine popped it smelled of vanilla mocha latte, not burnt ciggies*

            Steven R

            *lies - it smelled of popped electronics

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Ex fruity genius...

              Odd. Mine always smell of Magic Smoke.

              And sometimes burning dog/cat/horse/sheep/hog/cow hair & a few feathers.

  6. jake Silver badge

    About once per quarter ...

    ... I clean out the computers in the barns, whether they need it or not. It's amazing how much dust and hair can accumulate in a desktop PC without affecting it noticeably. The one in the main barn office gets especially bad when we are clipping horses ...

    1. defiler Silver badge

      Re: About once per quarter ...

      I found the fans just spin faster and faster until it sounds like a vacuum cleaner. But since it takes months / years to get to that point nobody realises until you get a fresh pair of ears in.

      I once had to lob a CPU heatsink in somebody's kitchen sink to scrub the crap off with hot soapy water and a wire brush. Thing ran like a dream after - it was almost silent!

      1. Psmo Bronze badge

        Re: About once per quarter ...

        nobody realises until you get a fresh pair of ears in

        Firstly, owww...

        Secondly, that must have really sucked...

  7. Cereberus

    Taking it literally

    My favourite was working for a mobile telecoms company, helping train and support the wonderful phone support staff.

    One trainee complained that the computer wasn't doing what he wanted and my instructions were stupid - the instruction being use the mouse to click on the <program> icon. Everyone else seemed to be fine so I was thinking it might just be the mouse was faulty or had become unplugged.

    I tried it and everything worked fine, although the trainee was too busy telling his neighbour how bad my course was to watch what I was doing. Anyway I closed the program and said to him to try again whilst I spoke to another trainee who was having fun playing with different menus.

    2 minutes later he shouts up again. I went back over, tried again without any problems and asked him to open the program as I had asked whilst I watched to see if I could identify the problem. I quickly did. He picked up the mouse put it on the monitor and pressed the button. 'See, it doesn't work' - I then had to explain how to use a mouse without laughing or making him look stupid in front of the other trainees.

    He did apologise though for saying my instructions were stupid so I didn't reply that they were written for people with basic computer use knowledge which he claimed to have, and weren't aimed at people who thought a toaster was a complex piece of equipment. Funnily enough he didn't stay with the company long.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Taking it literally

      He picked up the mouse put it on the monitor and pressed the button. 'See, it doesn't work' - I then had to explain how to use a mouse without laughing or making him look stupid in front of the other trainees.

      I can see how you might hope to accomplish #1, but surely #2 was already far beyond anyone's control.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Taking it literally

        "whilst I spoke to another trainee who was having fun playing with different menus."

        Sounds like he was a keeper, the pocket calculator stuff being too easy.

        1. Psmo Bronze badge
          Mushroom

          Re: Taking it literally

          A keeper or a breaker.

          The second is good as a tester, but expensive.

          "What was that red 'world ending' button for again?"

          1. Omgwtfbbqtime

            Re: Taking it literally

            What? This one under my elbow?

  8. Antonius_Prime
    Devil

    Ventblockers

    That is all.

    They were great. Like the tech equivalent to those pimple popper videos...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The devils foam

    I was managing a maintenance migration contract contract for a nation wide power distribution company when I got a call from the new service providers PM. One of the field engineers had returned a laptop full of green foam. Apparently it had fallen into a trench while the chap was working on a fault. as usual the trench was half full of water and mud but something must have leaked as the laptop was now leaking this noxious foam. Whilst the death of the laptop was unfortunate it left us with a conundrum. How do you dispose of a laptop full of unidentified evil smelling foam, safely and in the environmentally friendly way we normally did (all kit was recycled). It wasn't covered by the maintenance contract, the recycling company didn't want to go anywhere near it as they operated in almost clean room environments. We couldn't even temporarily return it to stores as it could be a health hazard. In the end a specialist disposal company had to be employed and I believe the entire device was incinerated.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The devils foam

      Roll of carpet, another trench, and the help of the PFY at midnight?

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The devils foam

      Never mind the laptop, what about the site staff who'd been working in the same environment?

      1. EVP Bronze badge

        Re: The devils foam

        The same procedure, I presume. Two PHYs, if the poor lad being let go is sturdier than an average person.

        1. Precordial thump

          Re: The devils foam

          The acronym PHY just gave me the most astonishing mental image of what the Pimple-Haired Youth would look like...

      2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: The devils foam

        There's a relevant Doctor Who story from the 1970s. "The Green Death". Being on colour television maybe went to their heads. Incidentally, an office computer also features largely.

    3. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: The devils foam

      Take it outside (Wearing elbow length gloves and a full face mask), put it in the gutter, point a fire hose at it. After getting most of it out, give it a good dunking in a bucket with some green/yellow/brown soap (Can't find the english name for it. The Dutch and German name translates to " Green soap") to get the rest. Should be good enough to dispose of after that.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: The devils foam

        Carbolic soap?

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: The devils foam

          No, carbolic is different.

          Green soap as used in the Netherlands and Germany was traditionally made from hemp oil, nowadays usually some other cheap oil like rapeseed or soybean oil and saponified with potassium hydroxide instead of the usual sodium hydroxide, which means it's a very soft almost gel like soap.

          It's also very useful because it's very universally applicable and a lot cheaper (and often better) than a lot of the dedicated cleaning products.

  10. chivo243 Silver badge
    Pint

    What's in the box Doc?

    Dead mice, not the kind mentioned in the story, dead frogs\toads, dead spiders and once what had probably been yogurt, I didn't ask, I just pointed and said "There's your problem". I've heard about dead snakes etc.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: What's in the box Doc?

      Dead mouse in a police radio transceiver back in the days when some of the last valve-based stuff was in use. Obviously a nice warm place to crawl into...

      1. Robert Sneddon Bronze badge

        Re: What's in the box Doc?

        A thousand volts of chunky DC to the TX stage anode was probably the reason the mouse was dead.

        We kept a discharge stick racked up beside our club's "competition" linear amplifier, the one we used on VHF field days. It had quad 4CX1000As conservatively downrated to provide only 1000W PEP to meet regs and competition rules, honest Guv, fed with an associated PSU made up from bits from a ex-WWII divisional HQ transmitting station (German or Allies, we were never sure). The final-stage smoothing capacitors were terrifyingly large and not to be approached until thoroughly discharged by means of something other than somebody's partially-volitalised fingers.

        1. Psmo Bronze badge

          Re: What's in the box Doc?

          ZOT-stick identified.

          I wondered what the Usenet Oracle was up to these days.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: What's in the box Doc?

            The Oracle has noted your musing and is moved to comment:

            The Usenet Oracle is exactly where the Usenet Oracle has always been. That would be Usenet, of course. Where have you been?

            For forcing the Oracle to slum it here on El Reg, you owe the Oracle three cold ones and must wave a rubber chicken while standing on the TRVTH pedestal next full moon.

    2. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: What's in the box Doc?

      " what had probably been yogurt"

      This phrase genuinely scares me.

      1. Mephistro Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: What's in the box Doc?

        LOL++

      2. shedied

        Re: What's in the box Doc?

        The really scary part is when you ( the tech) turn to the customer, and say the female lays eggs

        Start packing, and make your quickest exit ever.

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Nick London
    Windows

    Every time we make it idiot proof they design a better idiot.

    I am a steel and concrete engineer, but the one in the family who "understood" computers so I was dispatched to help a retired friend of the inlaws who had always been hard up but had inherited a nest egg and bought a PC.

    Problem 1 was no sound which was not unusual - it was a matter of installing drivers.

    Problem 2 was that he worried that when he typed in the word processor he would lose what he typed as it scrolled off the top of the screen. I explained how to save and that scrolling would not lose anything and he was away.

    What is obvious to you may not be obvious to others.

    When I first introduced the future Mrs NL to the hole in the wall cash machine, she typed 10 and waited. I told her to press the enter key. Why she asked. So the machine knows you are finished and don't want £100 I said. Ridiculous she said I would never want £100. I still have to navigate the basket checkout payment for her during online shopping, almost 40 years later. Love sp[rings eternal.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Every time we make it idiot proof they design a better idiot.

      OMG! That reminds me of attempting to help my father use a simple 4-function calculator in the early 1970s. I had already explained the basics to him.

      "It's not adding things up!" says he to me a few minutes later.

      "Let me watch you," says I.

      I watched as he entered the multiple digits for the first value and then, without pressing +. - or whatever operation he needed, continued entering the digits for the second value.

      "I said you need to tell it what you want to do between each number," I exclaim.

      "Why?" says he. "It should know what I want to do!"

      Then again, this was a man who, after refusing to have anything to do with decimalisation in 1971 (because, apparently, it was too complicated), tried to work out something to do with money by multiplying everything by twelve.

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Bronze badge

        Re: Every time we make it idiot proof they design a better idiot.

        What a nice example of "They are supposed to be able to read my mind of course!". Happens in human to human as well, way too often.

        1. defiler Silver badge

          Re: Every time we make it idiot proof they design a better idiot.

          Yep. My dad is definitely one of those people who needs a "do whatever I'm thinking" button...

      2. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: Every time we make it idiot proof they design a better idiot.

        Not my father, but my younger brother. Back in the day when mice were new, and had real balls, I remember most of us in IT being almost evangelistic about the amazingly intuitive way you could work with them.

        Until I introduced my brother, a professional sound engineer, to Software Audio Workshop (remember that?).

        The sight of him helplessly sliding the mouse around, sometimes with both hands, as his brain tried to connect what was happening on the monitor (in the vertical) to what he was doing with his hands (in the horizontal) made me realise there's intuitive and there's intuitive.

  13. ColinPa

    Dumb terminals - dumb users

    In the days before PCs our company wanted glossy colour photo of the test team in action, for the external magazine. Cue picture of 10 people at 10 green screens, all showing the logon screen. Because the test team had worked the weekend, they did not come in on the Monday, so they rounded up 10 people to pose at the dumb screens. This included a couple of secretaries, the cleaner, a man who had come to fix some electrics, and some managers. They all posed hands in the air like meerkats, for the photo. The photo got a commendation for showing lots of women "working in IT", before someone pointed out the logon screens and that none of them "worked in IT".

    As a result, someone took a picture of the real test team, complete with a bin full of coffee cups, full ashtrays, the pizza boxes on the floor, what looked like someone bashing his head on the screen.

  14. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
    Facepalm

    HUDs

    One place I worked at was the provider of the head up display for an american fighter; after some time of being in service, we were getting returns where the fault was listed as 'shutdown due to overheating'.

    So the repair crew duly ran them through their paces and could find nothing wrong at all - all functionality fine, temperatures all well within normal limits - so they were shipped back.

    We then had some more come in with the same reported problem yet we could find nothing wrong.

    It turned out that the overheating was due to dirt and other materials found in fighter cockpits getting into the cooling fans, but the workshop crew packing them up first used some low pressure air to clear out the dirt on the fans (which was the actual problem as the dirt was clogging the fans until they could no longer function). No wonder we could find nothing wrong.

    A little remedial training for the line / workshop crew and we did not see that problem again.

  15. Caver_Dave
    Unhappy

    The record stores thought the computers were crap

    Or at least one did.

    I looked after the UK pop chart terminals (Epson PX4 and a little smaller than a ream of paper) for a while and we had a courier based return system. The courier took out the replacement equipment in a box, the store manager would swap the replacement equipment for the broken, and the courier would bring the broken equipment back in the same box.

    One set of equipment came back with a surcharge as the courier had to wait around for some time for the broken kit, and the paperwork had a scribbled note apologising for the state of the box. The box looked fine, so (luckily for me) we did some investigating before we opened it.

    It turns out that the courier had to wait while the store manager found the computer... in what had just come out of the broken sewer!

    1. imanidiot Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: The record stores thought the computers were crap

      *Suppresses involuntary gagging*

      I assume the box was disposed off unopened?

    2. Aussie Doc
      Megaphone

      Re: The record stores thought the computers were crap

      Was UK pop music that bad back then? Karaoke, perhaps ---->

  16. Bobbins

    Not just Dell

    I can assure you that very similar problems did indeed trouble HP.

    Back in the late 80's and early 90's there were regular call outs to a certain high end salon in central London. Their keyboards started to do strange things once a critical amount of hair had accumulated inside them (all those tiny snips of cut hair floating around have to go somewhere.....).

    After several keyboard replacements it was mutually agreed that those flexible jelly keyboard spill covers that could be typed through would be a sensible investment. We never had to visit them again.

  17. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change
    IT Angle

    Hair today, gone tomorrow

    This reminds me, I need to find time for a visit to the barber.

    I don't think they have a 'puter anywhere in the shop. Maybe there's one out the back where customers don't go?

    1. DanceMan

      Re: Hair today, Goon tomorrow

      Ack, ack, ack, ack!

    2. Lilolefrostback

      Re: Hair today, gone tomorrow

      The barbers at the shop I attend all use their smartphones, including as POS terminals. Since they all had smartphones anyway, the whole setup was effectively free. I'm quite impressed.

    3. shedied

      Re: Hair today, gone tomorrow

      " The computer?"

      "Yes, in the back, I was told"

      "Walk this way, sir"

      Cue Igor's walk from the Mel Brooks' film Young Frankenstein

  18. James Dore
    Flame

    Library Catalogue very terminal

    I used to do tech support in the Bodleian library, Oxford. They had some ancient Compusys 386sx pc's that loaded DOS, an IP stack, and Telnet to present the OLIS catalogue to readers. These had been there so long that they were full of dust. We only got asked to upgrade them when one started smouldering and set off the smoke alarms.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: Library Catalogue very terminal

      I went to a primary school to deal with a overheating PC one afternoon somewhere on the road to hell or Minehead as the locals call it.

      Lunchtime (Luckily) I had been to the Taunton Poundland & picked up these ginormous cans of air duster, before departing, the PC motherboard was coated in dust about 1cm thick & could be best described as the laundry fluff\lint that accumulates in a dryer.

      It took 1.5 super large cans of air to blow that one out (Having bought two because they should last me for ages right!) & the following day they were out of stock never to be seen again in Poundland.

      1. Missing Semicolon
        Happy

        Re: Library Catalogue very terminal

        Not air. Butane! Perhaps why they went.....

  19. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Not all this stuff is nasty. We used to get lumbered with all sorts of private jobs to fix.

    The most pleasant was always the tv from an Indian lecturer which appeared perfectly normal until turned on for test - within seconds the whole place smelt of curry!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had to delicately clean tear gas out of a pc once. Sad situation, customer had a family member go through a crisis that resulted in a police standoff. Said family member committed suicide during the standoff. Given the uncertainty over the situation, the police fired tear gas into the residence before entering.

    For those wondering about the technical details of the cleaning, I think just plain water. I delegated cleanup to the PFY.

  21. azstew

    Computer Mouse EEK!

    Many years ago I donated a Tandy 2000NL to a lady friend and her kidlets. Late one night one of the little girls woke up and shrieked EEEKKKKK!!! Her mother rushed in and asked what happened. " There's a mouse in the computer". Mom answered "Yes, computers have a mouse. Its OK." The little one was satisfied and life went on. A couple years later the computer was replaced and I got the old one back. Needing to donate it again, I opened it up and lo and behold, a big nest and droppings were inside! Kidlet was correct. A belly laugh was had by all when told.

    1. Psmo Bronze badge

      Re: Computer Mouse EEK!

      And much constanation when the replacement arrived and the mouse didn't move by itself.

    2. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

      Re: Computer Mouse EEK!

      Heh. I once actually caught a mouse in my Acorn Archimedes: I think there may have been a backplate loose or missing. Nothing like a nest, it just took refuge in there presumably when it saw me, but I knew the innards of that 'puter well enough to make it a trap for the visitor.

      The computer was fine. The mouse was (as far as I know) fine when I took it up into the woods a couple of miles away and released it. A humane mouse trap!

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. jake Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Computer Mouse EEK!

          For a while computer cases were made for both DIN and PS/2 style keybr0ads. Often, when the motherboard only came with PS/2 keyboard support, the DIN socket was left open, a hole in the back of the case. Turns out that flesh & blood mice can easily fit through the DIN hole. As a result, for a period of maybe 6 or 8 years, mice making their nest in PC-style computers was fairly common.

          (Yes, this is an edited version of my previous, now deleted post. Brain fart on my part. Mea culpa. Have a homebrew.)

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Computer Mouse EEK!

        "The mouse was (as far as I know) fine when I took it up into the woods a couple of miles away and released it. A humane mouse trap!"

        Might want to check the rules and regs in your jurisdiction before admitting to doing this. For example, trapping and relocating wild animals is illegal in California (Title 14, § 465.5). All you are doing is foisting your problem on another party. Either trap to kill, or don't trap.

  22. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Mixing console.

    Taco chip, somehow inserted into a Penney & Giles slider. Back in the days when all DJs smoked, in between spilling coffee onto electronics.

  23. Morrie Wyatt
    Coat

    Hairdressers.

    Well they were after all on the "B" ark.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Hairdressers.

      Well played!

  24. ocratato

    Cement Dust and Storemen

    I once worked in a team installing computers into warehouses.

    One of the warehouses was quite new.

    After the computer was in operation for a few weeks we made a visit to see how it was going.

    We noticed there was quite a bit cement dust about, so we checked inside the computer.

    Yep, caked in several mm of cement.

    The software was also quite interesting. The idea was for all the shelves, and the bins on them, to have bar codes.

    The storemen would then record where they collected the items using a hand-held barcode scanner.

    I had the job of designing the software for printing the barcodes.

    The trick was to avoid 0,O, 1 and I since the storemen were unaccustomed to keyboards and could not

    understand that they were actually different things.

    1. defiler Silver badge

      Re: Cement Dust and Storemen

      When generating first passwords for new users I always avoid 0, 1, l, i or O to save confusion.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Cement Dust and Storemen

        O 0 1 l 6b

        To the non-techie these can be easily confused. Even some techies, especially in a hurry.

        1. Mark #255

          Re: Cement Dust and Storemen

          In computer vision circles, this is known as the "B8 problem".

          (One of the first problems tackled was OCRing postal addresses - it's an issue either way through the human-computer interface)

        2. DiViDeD Silver badge

          Re: Cement Dust and Storemen

          Also capital I. Of great practical utility when ensuring future employment by writing unmaintainable code

  25. Andy Non Silver badge

    Industrial environments

    I once had to install some software on a PC in a large automated fabric cutting room. Inserted my 5 1/4" floppy into the slot and it started to spin, making a rough sound, failing to load. Pulled the disk out and it was now caked in fabric dust. Had to give the drive a good clean before I got it to work. Couldn't help wondering what the operators lungs were like.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Industrial environments

      Paper dust in printshops is another big one that most folks wouldn't expect.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Industrial environments

        Somewhere you would expect paper dust, but maybe surprising to a first timer opening up a PC, is in a paper mill. The fan kept enough paper dust away from the CPU that by the time it did eventually fail, the entire inside of of the PC was an almost solid white block with a "channel" above the CPU cooler to the outside world.

  26. FishCounter

    Teaching Moment

    I was teaching a System Administrator class for the U.S. Coast Guard in the early '90s and while covering the use of the 5 1/4" floppy drive, a student called me over as the drive wasn't reading the disk. I thought I saw the problem right away, not seeing anything in the drive and told him he needed to insert the disk, then turn the lever to actuate the drive. He said he did and that's when I noticed the thin, rounded edge of the mylar disk poking out of the drive. I withdrew it and asked how he got that out of the case; he proudly admitted that while it was difficult to peel back the edge of the "sleeve" when I requested they remove the disk from the sleeve before inserting the disk, he was successful. I had no words of praise for him and just walked away.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Teaching Moment

      And this, ladies and gentleman, is why "show and tell" is a good thing. Assume your students/trainees know NOTHING about the subject. Even now, I meet people fresh out of school/college/university who have little knowledge about hoe to drive a computer other then the very bare basics, despite having used them their whole lives.

  27. Chozo

    Vapor Rediffusion

    14 inch TV from a chipshop, the old-school ones. You know the type, mechanical tuner switches, the faint whiff of ozone, weighing like a crate of beer. Ten years it had hovered above the counter slowly condensing layers of culinary history. Were not talking some wimpy conformal coating spray covering, nay full on potted in solid fat with just the top of high voltage coil poking out. Two days with a hot a air paint stripper later we got down to bare board and eventually replacing a duff power transistor. Neil went vegan shortly afterwards, me I still gag uncontrollably at the smell of warm grease.

  28. bpfh Silver badge

    In 1998...

    Our campus still had some 386 based IBM PS/2’s hands up who remembers the MCA bus? hanging around in some dark corners, one of which was the badge logging and timing software used by our access systems, and the PSU went TITSUP*. I pulled the short straw to get a taxi order to shuttle a “new” PSU from our parts warehouse to site and had to swap the part.

    The change itself went fine, almost plug and play on the 20kg behemoth of a tower.... but every one of these beasts always had a resident spider. This one had a big bugger walking around in is warm and fluffy home.

    Standard operating procedure was from there to disconnect the tower, try and manhandle the beast outside, using a fork lift if needed, crack open the case and give it a few bashes and return the resident wildlife to nature. I only ever found spiders, but mice got in a few that my colleagues had encountered - god knows how.

    If you were lucky and had one of the power dusters, take it out to the service parking lot and let loose. The resulting mushroom cloud of dust looked like someone had touched off a small yield nuke...

    *Totally Unable To Supply Usual Power

    1. Precordial thump

      Re: In 1998...

      Sam Gamgee only needed Sting (elf blade, not singer) to crack open his beast. Not sure if the orcs inside returned to nature.

    2. Down not across Silver badge

      Re: In 1998...

      hands up who remembers the MCA bus?

      Raises hand, while muttering "thankfully didn't last long and EISA came along."

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: In 1998...

        I seem to have a vague memory of those MCA based PS/2s being awkward buggers when it came to hardware upgrades. IIRC, you needed a floppy disk with a special file just to tell the bastard that you'd installed extra RAM. Despite that having been a simple, non-complex "done deal" since almost the invention of the microcomputer, ie just plug it in and it works.

        1. whitepines Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: In 1998...

          Time may have dimmed your memory of the joys of ISA IRQ / I/O port reconfiguration slightly. It was most definitely not "stick the card in and go", unless you mean "stick the card in and go pay a technician to fix your mess".

          MCA had a very early, primitive form of PNP (Plug 'N' Pray) that pushed the card setup into the BIOS vs. the OS. Then, due to tech limitations of the day, IBM daftly decided to store the system config on an external, removable "setup" floppy instead of anywhere on the mainboard or on the hard disk (if present). Needless to say this requirement to keep that exact same setup floppy matched with the computer in question endeared these machines to anyone deploying large fleets of them, and was a significant factor in MCA's demise. Why it wasn't designed so that one could just force the system to reconfigure itself from scratch with a new floppy is lost to time, but I tend to think it was more cost cutting in that even the base system manifest wasn't stored anywhere except the original floppy.

          Mine's the one with the 386s in the pockets...

          1. batfink Silver badge

            Re: In 1998...

            Easy. Just get a big magnet and use it to stick the floppy to the side of the monitor. What could possibly go wrong?

          2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: In 1998... @whitepines

            If I remember correctly, the ADF disk contained more than just the configuration, and I don't think it was needed for memory upgrades unless you were using an MCA memory carrier card. I certainly did not use one to upgrade the memory of the multiple Model 80's that I looked after.

            The NVRAM in the system kept the current configuration, and the disk was a copy of what was in the NVRAM. The ADF file definitly had a 'reset to scratch' option (I think it was in the hidden Advanced menu on the disk), but to use it, you needed the adapter specific ADF files to re-configure each of the adapters. But it was possible to copy ADF disks for use on more than one system.

            Also, I'm fairly certain that you did not need ADF disks if you were using OS/2 or AIX/PS2 on the systems.

            1. whitepines Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: In 1998... @whitepines

              I'ts been ages, but do you happen to recall if the NVRAM was true NVRAM or battery backed NVRAM? If it's tied to the CMOS battery, well, that's a problem.

        2. bpfh Silver badge

          Re: In 1998...

          Ah yes. The reference diskette. Lose it and be doomed :)

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: In 1998... @Down

        Microchannel (MCA stood for Micro Channel Architecture) was quite a decent bus for the time (released in 1989), with a roadmap to allow it to increase in performance as time went by. It was a bus-master capable bus capable of data transfers on both leading and falling edge of the clock, making it quite high performance (at least as fast, and probably faster as EISA, even in MCAs initial implementation), and automatic interrupt prioritization and arbitration.

        The only reasons why it was a problem were:

        1. IBM charged a license fee to make cards using it

        2. Cards were expensive and 3rd party cards relatively rare (mainly because of 1, but partly because of it's complexity)

        3. No backward compatibility with ISA

        4. On DOS/Windows based computers, you had to keep track of all of the ADF (Adapter Description File) disks for all of the adapters that you used (this was not a problem with MCA on other IBM systems that would only run IBM OSs and normally only IBM cards)

        When used on RS/6000 and AS/400 computers (where it was fully implemented, unlike the half-arsed PS/2 implementation), it was a very successful bus, and some people still think it was not such a good idea to switch to PCI when IBM finally decided it was too expensive to get cards just made for them.

  29. ecofeco Silver badge

    Crammed with unmentionables?

    What old PC isn't? Or switches for that matter.

    I've done many a fix with JUST canned air.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Crammed with unmentionables?

      I was expecting that on a PC I went out to fix. The black dust just needed cleaning out, or so I thought. Stuck a hoover nozzle in on the blow function and a lot of the dust flew away (outside I hasten to add). I tipped the system on its side and half the RAM chips fell out. Thermal "creep" had caused all the chips to rise so far out of the DIL sockets that many of them were just resting on the top. Now, thermal "creep" was an expected issue back then, but not so much that the chip was actually out of it's socket. The theory we came up with was that the black dust was acting as a conductor and kept it working when most other PCs suffering thermal "creep" would have failed. Did I mention this was a metal processing plant? That dust must have had a decent amount of iron content.

  30. Mark Allen

    Chinese takeaway

    PC used for CCTV in a Chinese Takeaway. PC sat on a shelf in the kitchen. Open that one up - everything covered with a thick layer of grease. Not ideal for keeping fans spinning.

    Another job, another case. Large barn where they made paving slabs, kerbstones, etc. Concrete dust was an inch thick on every surface in the PC. Hate to think what state the hard disk was in as that dust would have got through the breath hole.

    Do not combine fluffy cats with wooden floors. A Dell sitting on the floor is an excellent hoover. Pull the front off of that case and the hair was so thick and jammed that it came out as one solid lump.

    Never assume IT knowledge. One person I knew would store important documents in a special folder on the desktop. You know the one. It has a special icon and sits in the corner. When fixing her PC it was lucky that I checked with her before I emptied the recycle bin! I don't blame her, no one had taught her to use a PC.

    Another bizarre thing I learnt from her was the total lack of understanding how one window could sit on top of another window. No concept of the 3D way the GUI would stack windows on top of each other. Meaning she would only run one program at a time and get totally confused if a window disappeared.

    I'll censor some of the rest... like the house of the mad cat woman with a least a dozen cats. Dried cat sick down the side of the case. I learnt to carry gloves after that visit...

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Bronze badge

      Re: Chinese takeaway

      You need to upgrade your job. I hope you are young. Though I had not your level of catastrophes, I had enough of them. And I am happy I forgot most of them. Time to step up, this is inhumane.

  31. This post has been deleted by its author

  32. Aussie Doc
    Mushroom

    Holy Smoke

    Like many commentards here, I (non-smoker) made a house call to repair a PC in a previous life - a home based business with matching him and her heavy smokers.

    Opening the case revealed thick, bituminous, stinking tar everywhere - and I mean everywhere - on chips, CPU fan, lining the case, the works. Add to the mix a long haired dog and the insides of the PC were so disgusting I nearly puked.

    After cleaning or replacing most parts (floppy, hard drive, CPU etc) in these 386 monsters and I suggested, politely, that smoking near said machine wasn't a good idea. Cue the "Don't tell me what to do, I've smoked since I was six weeks old" or something.

    Near on 18 months later called to same home.

    Similar problem but not as 'tarry'. 'He' died from smoking related disease, apparently.

    Who knew.

  33. AVR

    The worst I've seen involved an unreasonable number of crumbs and the cockroaches who'd decided to feast on them. I'm not sure whether to be jealous of the more exotic finds above or not.

    Well, there was the time someone drilled a hole in the wall in a server room, and the resulting concrete dust caused all the server HDDs to start failing. Not so exotic, but very very expensive.

  34. Lazlo Woodbine Bronze badge

    Securely packaged

    I used to work in the repair department for a large, now deceased PC builder, we'd get PCs delivered back to us in all kinds of dodgy packaging.

    One time though, a builder had a great idea, he sat the PC in a box then pumped the box full of cavity wall insulation foam, set like concrete, the PC was secure surely.

    Well he forgot to put the PC in a bag, so the foam seeped into all the vents before it set.

    We unfortunately had to send it back uninspected...

  35. Mandoscottie
    Happy

    Reminds me of my first IT Role.

    First job after college was at an engineerign firm, who had a shot blastng site.

    I remember going into shotblasting site office to give the Apricot PC (yes those bad boys)a heatlhcheck, place was orange everywhere (Ferrous oxide)

    Popped the hood of the funky Apricot cases to find an orange interior, every square inch Orange! Astounded the thing even ran, i put hood back on and promptly planned a replacement.....testament to that old girl it had run forgotten about for years.

  36. Marshalltown

    Pretty sure I've told this story before

    Way back in the '90s I worked for a firm whose chief business was dirt, or rather what's in it. That is, it was what is know in California as a Cultural Resources firm. We did archaeological surveys and tests ahead of developers. Well, the '90s were heady days in the computer and internet areas as well. And the owner, who had explained that he was a "concept guy" during my hiring interview, decided that IN PARALLEL to the chief business, which was to wander out with a map and wade through toxic plants looking to be sure there were no prehistoric or historic resources that would be "negatively impacted" by a proposed project, he wanted to set up an ISP business. And since he had a perfectly good staff of college educated archaeologists, they would handle initial operations - nothing like being thrown in the deep end without a life vest. Why hire folks who knew what they were doing? So, in between writing up reports of things seen in the dirt, and passing along field notes contaminated with poison oak (Toxicodendron diversiloba) to people who broke out into a rash from seeing a photograph of the plant, we did things like take calls from people even more innocent than we. One call that I took was from a very nice matron who had bought a computer and signed up for an internet connection through the boss' parallel company. She could not get her mouse to work "very well." Her computer, needless to say, was not installed "professionally." Investigation found she had her mouse on the floor and was attempting to employ it like the pedal on a sewing machine. I've since seen this written up as an "urban myth." but I personally took the call.

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