back to article BOFH: It's DANGEROUS to go alone. Take THIS

“I can’t smell anything,” the Boss says, leaning back from his half-consumed plate of the last of the onion bhajis at the staff cafeteria. “Well you wouldn’t, would you?” the PFY says. “Why not?” “Because we’re professionals.” “I’m a professional!” the Boss says defensively. “Please,” the PFY says sadly - but almost …


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  1. phuzz Silver badge

    Magic Smoke

    It's one thing smelling something, it's another thing finding which bit of equipment is producing the smell.

    Last week we started to get a strong smell of magic smoke, which turned out to be coming from or server room.

    Cue all of us standing behind the rack, carefully sniffing each piece of equipment, and using the laser thermometer, until we found the culprit.

    It turned out to be one of the UPS batteries. Good thing it started on a Thursday morning, if it had happened on friday night it probably would have caught fire...

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: Magic Smoke

      It's one thing smelling something, it's another thing finding which bit of equipment is producing the smell.

      Yonks ago, in a former electronics lab life, there was a lot of smelling going on. And no, not that kind of body odour smelling which also wasn't all too uncommon among nerds. I'm talking about element smelling - some where able to identify the group of overloaded culprit just from the smell: carbon or metal oxide film resistors, tantalum or aluminum (nasty when exploding!) capacitors, diodes or transistors...

      1. A J Stiles

        Re: Magic Smoke

        I've also paid my dues in electronics R&D, and learned how to identify a failed component by odour.

        If you have ever worked on old record players or television sets, you may well have been unlucky enough to have encountered a failing selenium rectifier. You never forget what one of those smells like .....

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

          Re: Magic Smoke

          @A J Stiles

          They are stunned when as you walk in the front door you immediately say "Rectifer's gone".

    3. Fatman

      Re: Magic Smoke

      It's one thing smelling something, it's another thing finding which bit of equipment is producing the smell.

      I had that happen one day to me.

      I walked into the shipping department, and the distinct odor of frying electronics hit my nostrils. I asked the workers there if they noticed THAT SMELL? Not one of them did.

      A little hunting with the nose led me to the culprit - the wall wart feeding the digital scale. As I moved my hand closer to it, I began to feel a serious increase in temperature, thank $DEITY I didn't touch it. It was quite hot.

      I used a pair of adjustable pliers to remove it from the wall socket, and let it cool down. Inspecting the side of the wart that contacted the receptacle, indicated a nice brown stain from overheating. $DEITY knows how long that it would have been allowed to sit there, cooking itself if I hadn't "noticed" it..

    4. Oengus

      Re: Magic Smoke

      Years ago my father had me convinced that electronic items worked on "Magic" smoke and that once the smoke was let out the item stopped working (I was 5 or 6 at the time). He also told me that electronics technicians would repair things by putting the smoke back inside.

      1. swansonc

        Re: Magic Smoke

        Many years ago, I found a hard drive that had too much magic blue smoke. The thing wouldn't spin up. Then, poof, magic blue smoke was let out and the drive started up.

        Filter cap shorted to ground. When it went, the short resolved.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's a pool table?

    1. Crisp

      In any good bar

      There's always a pool table.

  3. Roger B
    Thumb Up

    Nice parody of

    The Bourne Identity.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: Nice parody of

      "Look what they make you give"

  4. auburnman

    I was expecting this one to be a ruse to get the boss up on the roof looking at the aircon so a "terrible accident" could happen. Good fakeout.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    “You’re an IT professional in the same way that Jean-Claude Van Damme is a hero. Like make-believe, only sadder.”

    ROFL, so, so, appropriate in so many cases.

  6. Tzhx

    Really liking that BOFH seems to be updating every week now, just to get us through those last few hours before pub time.

  7. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    What a luxury!

    Another Friday, another BOFH. Thank you, Simon.

  8. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    The smells you smell

    I must be a highly trained pro, because I'm extremely good at catching the faintest whiff of IT-related smells such as hot plastic, blown capacitors, or pot.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The smells you smell

      > pot

      of the adjustable or rastafarian type?

  9. tony2heads

    like Big Daddy says in Cat on a hot tin roof

    There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The worst smell ever is the smell from any bit of electronic that as spent years in the house of someone with a chain smoking habit.

    Surprising how well it can kill computers too, once air can't pass in the heatsink fins ....

    1. Steven Raith

      You've not experienced disgust till you've taken apart an aluminium iMac/Macbook used by a dedicated smoker.

      Those very thin air passages, tightly packed heatsinks etc make for an amazing tar trap - to the degree where it can stain the back of the cover glass (on an iMac, at least) very easily. And sometimes, it will damage the inside of the LCD panel. On Macbooks, every air passage ends up yellow, sticky and furry.

      And I say this as a recent (converted to e-cigs) dedicated 40 a day smoker - I'm used to it.

      Cleaning that shit up was fine when it was my own gear, but someone elses.....eeeeeuuugh.

      Steven R

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Heh, you lot have had it easy. Try dealing with a 26in CRT TV that's sat in a house full of chain smokers + extremely hairy dog.

      2. Sarah Balfour

        I'm trying to quit the nic habit, too, only no-one can tell me how to quit 20+ pieces of Icy White a day. I've managed to cut down from 4mg to 2, but Nicorette don't do a 1mg, so I'm a bit stuck...

        Advice, as always, would be appreciated (on the plus side, gum IS quite a bit cheaper than fags - I can get a 105 box for £10 if I search. Tesco used to do it for £8, but you won't catch me shopping in THERE anymore, unless I'm REALLY desperate).

        1. Omgwtfbbqtime

          @ Sarah Balfour

          Cold Turkey with a change of routine.

          Go on holiday without the gum.

          Disclaimer - this worked for me 8 years ago - went from 20-40 a day (depending on whether I was drinking that day) to nil. Stopped the cigs the day before we flew, the first day was tough, second day, stuck in a no smoking airport, not so bad.

          Not having any of the usual day time triggers for a smoke helped a lot.

  11. Fatman


    “We can. It’s like a superpower,” I say. “You’ve probably got some similar skill from a lifetime of exposure to stuff you know intimately[1]. You’d be able to detect that smell better than most.”

    [1] also known as BULLSHIT!!!!

    1. Marshalltown

      Re: BS

      Plainly you must be in administration, either that or a heavy smoker with no sense of smell.

    2. Myvekk

      Re: "Superpower"

      Especially if JIM is your BSOSSS.


      A Mere IT Helldeskminion.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    With me, it's hearing. I remember freaking out my old boss when I pushed back from my desk, pulled an 8cm fan out of the desk drawer, and went and stood in the middle of the office. I could hear the beginnings of a fan going somewhere, but I couldn't figure out which machine, so I was tracking it down. Found it after a minute or so. The guy sat at the machine, who'd been using it for years, had no idea anything was wrong, and no-one else in the office could hear the buzz, even when I was pointing it out.

    Lifetime of IT, professionals, etc, etc

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      I know the annoying buzz of the bearings going on a fan, but to be honest I'm no better than the users at hearing things. I just know what they meant when the hear it after everybody else does.

      My personal favourite party trick is ordering replacement fluorescent tubes when they are on their way out by the flickering, though I am quite also quite good at detecting the smells of components (or multi way sockets running a couple of 3kw heaters) melting.

      Some people will tell you that they can't smell, hear or see such things. Those people are actually right. They can't. We can though. However chaps, it's not actually down to a lifetime in IT.

      You were born with it, basically. Your likely just beyond the fringes of what is currently designated the Autistic Spectrum, because you don't have much in the way of disadvantages, but you likely do have the ability to make use of positive traits many people don't have, which might include heightened levels (out of the norm for >95% of the population) of one or more of the following abilities:-






      Logical thinking ability

      IMO, you'll find many such people can be found in technical/engineering disciplines since it's self selecting and we have a decisive advantage over people without such abilities.

      1. Myvekk

        It sounds like... "The Knack." The curse of the Engineer.

        Thank you, Scott Adams:

  13. dsmalle

    I used to be able to hear which CRT screens were left on (and PC off). A *very* high pitched sound. Had to tilt the head to get a sense of where it was coming from.

    Nowadays LCD's don't make that sound, but some switched power supplies do.

    1. Lee T

      CRT Whine

      My LCD whines with some images.

      Try this one

    2. FutureShock999

      No, your ears have gone, it happens with age....sorry. ;-)

    3. jubtastic1

      "Turn that bloody TV off"

      I can still hear a CRT from across the house, sad to say we still have one, also a good nose for burning insulation etc. Oh, and LED flickering, which is less a skill and more of a curse.

      I think the poster above who suggested that our natural abilities push us towards a technical vocation is correct, it's hard not be interested in something when you can't ignore it

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UPS went last week

    Monday morning and one of the design engineers said had I been through reception yet?

    I entered the room and it was like a stink bomb had been used, really strong sulphur and overheated electronics. An UPS on the phone system had decided to try and split it's batteries.

    A few careful minutes later I had the thing isolated and cooling why I wondered why nobody else had mentioned it, there must have been ten people through before and Electronics engineer hit the WTF button and called.

    Later that evening I was sat wondering if I'd gone to work with big holes in my trousers then decided I should probably have used overalls to move it.

    Excellent BOFH and too close for comfort.

    Another IT awareness is boot sense, where you get a feel for local problems or network issues from the various stages of the desktop loading.

    I see the failed IPv6 is strong in this one...

  15. earl grey

    many moons ago

    Used to work on Unisys mainframes and the big caps in them would stink of fish oil when they were getting ready for their demise. then it was only a matter of time...

    1. Cpt Blue Bear

      Re: many moons ago

      In the late 80s I worked in a place with a phone system that used the same caps...

  16. anatak


    I drive classic motorcycles for a hobby and that makes you hear every new sound because new sound normally equals expensive rebuild. I am always amazed when I drive in someone else's car and I tell them that there is something wrong with drive train and they didn't notice the sound until you point it out.

    I can also hear most electric signals (fluorescent lights, old lightbulbs about to go bust) but I have very little taste.

  17. Oengus


    Last week must have been the week for UPSs to blow up. I came into work and thought I could get a whiff of something but it was just a hint... A couple of hour later the smell suddenly got much worse. My immediate thoughts were the server room (I have access as I am the local eyes and hands for our remote monitoring group) but inside there was no smell at all. (It has its own filtered air-conditioning system not connected to the main building system). Back outside the smell was definitely getting worse. I managed to track it to the Battery room for our UPS (worst mistake was opening the door). That let the smell through main air-conditioning system. It took all day for the smell to be filtered out.

    Quick call to the on-site building manager to get the battery bank isolated and disconnected. Urgent calls to suppliers for replacement batteries. Several days with no UPS. Finally UPS is back up and working.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I remember a story that a technical guy from a graphics card manufacturer told me about one of his customers who was an ex-BBC engineer. The BBC bloke looked at the monitor and said that all the colours were wrong. It look fine to everyone else, they had to get a scope and discovered that the green was out by less than 1%

    1. DiViDeD

      Re: Sight....

      Ah that's BBC engineers for you. I was with a couple of audio engineers from BBC Llandaf at a demonstration of 3D sound many years ago. The idea was that the system allowed you to make sounds appear to come from outside the actual stereo image, even from behind you on a two speaker setup and these guys were investigating it for possible use by Drama Dept.

      As I was being blown away by the spaceships behind my head and wandering saxophones, these guys just looked at each other and one said "Well I don't know about 3D. All *I* can hear is phase errors."

      When I asked the presenter droid later how it was done, he said the system introduced subtle phase errors to fool the brain into hearing the sound coming from somewhere else.

      Well it didn't fool those lads!

      Drama Dept never did get their spanky 3D audio system - not until Dolby ProLogic, many years later.

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