back to article User jams up PC. Literally. No, we don't know which flavour

Welcome again to On-Call, The Register's weekly trawl through readers' memories of dealing with dim users or dangerous bosses, often at ridiculous times. This week, a pair of sticky situations starting with one sent to us by “Tim”. Tim's tale comes from his first job when he was “fresh faced out of University and on the first …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    It appears that the gap between the drive and the blanking plate in the front case looked just like the drive slot, she had been posting disks into the machine through this slot.”

    You will not believe how many times I have seen this one :)

    Still makes me chuckle remembering it

    1. Not That Andrew

      You really have to wonder what sort of numpty mistakes a gap below the drive for the slot with the recess in the middle and a large lever over it? not to mention the flashing light above it?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Well, a lot of 'information ergonomics' is based around size and shape... e.g if this plug is same shape and size as that socket, there's a good chance they go together. Good design will use this to help the user. However, good design, or 'form engineering', was rare in the PC world until the last decade or so.

        I still remember the horror of PC cases in the nineties where vendors thought it good idea to adorn a humble stamped-steel case with a curvey beige plastic fascia, which only served to make it awkard to remove floppy disks and USB devices. Not to mention a 'turbo' button that didn't do anything, a camouflaged power button,a Reset button next to the disk eject button...

        1. Locky

          You missed out

          Cases lined with razor baldes to stop the un-initiated tinkering. That must be why they were like that

          1. Stu Wilson

            Re: You missed out

            My brother, who owned/ran the towns local computer shop termed those as 'cases by Gilette®'

            Basically the cheapest, shodiest cases where the steel was cut/stamped but not rolled over so the edges were sharp as fsck, hence the moniker

            1. kain preacher

              Re: You missed out

              Some of those cases were so sharp you did not even know you were cut. Seriously you could not make case sharper even if you tried. You could use the sides to cut up an elephant.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: You missed out

                "You could use the sides to cut up an elephant."

                I did once. To my chagrin I discovered that when you cut up 6 tons of dead elephant, you still have 6 tons of dead elephant to dispose of.

                1. David 132 Silver badge

                  Re: You missed out

                  To my chagrin I discovered that when you cut up 6 tons of dead elephant, you still have 6 tons of dead elephant to dispose of.

                  Didn't you have a large trunk you could put it all in?

                2. jake Silver badge

                  Re: You missed out

                  6 tons of dead elephant? Easy ... make stew!

                  1. David 132 Silver badge

                    Re: You missed out

                    @jake 6 tons of dead elephant? Easy ... make stew!

                    "Dumbo Gumbo"?

                    1. jake Silver badge

                      Re: You missed out

                      No. Stew. Recipe follows:

                      1 elephant

                      5 rabbits (optional)

                      cooking oil (I use lard)

                      enough flour to dredge the meat, seasoned if you like

                      6 hundredweight onions

                      4 hundredweight carrots

                      2 hundredweight celery

                      50 pounds salt

                      50 pounds pepper

                      1 bay leaf (if you leave it out, you'll miss it!)

                      4-5 barrels good red wine and enough water to cover

                      Cut the elephant into bite-sized pieces. Dredge in flour, and brown in the oil. While the elephant is browning, dice up the veg. Throw it all into the pot with the elephant. Add the salt & pepper and bay leaf, give it a good stir. When the onions are translucent, add the wine & water and bring to a simmer. It is done when the elephant is tender. If you are serving more than 2500 people, cut up and brown the rabbits with the elephant ... but be careful, most people don't like to find hares in their stew.

              2. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: You missed out

                Sharp cases were a menace - particularly the ones which would make you bleed simply by picking them up.

                Thankfully the local version of Trading Standards agreed they were a health hazard and started cracking down on them after a few complaints. It helped that one of their inspectors got bitten by a case too.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: You missed out

            > Cases lined with razor baldes to stop the un-initiated tinkering.

            Or the initiated, for that matter. All-metal Dells, especially the servers, were lethal in the early 90s. I recall the case of one server that ended up looking like a butcher shop with my own blood after an especially entertaining tussle...

            1. Kevin Fairhurst

              Re: You missed out

              But if you didn't make the requisite blood sacrifice when dismantling/reassembling, you knew for a fact that it wouldn't work when you tried powering it on...

            2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

              Re: You missed out

              My dear blood's been spread among a many Olivetti razor blades computers back in the mid 90s. It was such a relieve to switch to Dell - at least the desktops had been a pleasure to handle.

            3. Omgwtfbbqtime

              "Cases lined with razor baldes to stop the un-initiated tinkering."

              That was a design feature. You needed a blood sacrifice to make the damn thing work.

          3. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: You missed out

            >Cases lined with razor baldes to stop the un-initiated tinkering. That must be why they were like that

            Hehe! A by-product of the cheap manufacturing process - in a single process you can bend a sheet of mild steel and punch holes through it simultaneously. Such parts could be de-burred, but that increases labour costs as a part has to be moved to a different machine. Whilst I have cut my fingers on PC cases (and extruded door latches that are sharply cut extrusions), I was philosophical about it - after all, I had bought the PC after weeks of searching the dead-tree magazines for the most amount of MHz/ MBs etc for my money - so the inexpensive construction (an honest compromise) was my choice as a buyer.

            By contrast, no user asked for an arbitrary curved plastic fascia that nothing more than an inconvenient, cack-handed attempt at product differentiation.

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Re: You missed out

              A side note on rants:

              A fella called Charlie Brooker cut his teeth by ranting about the frustrations of being a PC gamer back in the nineties. In time, he ranted about Shoreditch (Nathan Barley), and then the news and television. Now he has critical acclaim on both sides of the pond for his cautionary series Black Mirror.

              (I'd be interested if anyone knows the first time a television was referred to as a 'black mirror'. I know Jony Ive used the term in the nineties, referring to concepts explored for the Twentieth Anniversary Mac (just prior to Jobs' return). Jony Ive thought that CRTs when turned off were just unpleasant black mirrors, and had explored using doors and curtains to hide them. )

              1. Tom Paine

                Re: You missed out

                Presumably pre-dates the Arcade Fire song of the same name

              2. Suburban Inmate

                Re: Charlie Brooker

                Here's a little gem I hunted down one bored afternoon. It caused Concerned Mothers™ to get in quite a flap.

                Dr Helmut Werstler's Cruelty Zoo

          4. VanguardG

            Re: You missed out

            Yep...blood sacrifice cases. Any savings in cost making the cases was balanced by the cost of bandages to patch up anyone who had the temerity to open one.

            1. Spiz

              Re: You missed out

              Yeah I remember those cases. The worst cut I ever got was from pushing out one of the blanks for an ISA/VESA slot (before they put a handy cross in them for a screwdriver.

              Sliced my finger clean about 1cm down each side. Had to wash the motherboard...

              Never did that again.

              1. Rattus Rattus

                Re: You missed out

                "pushing out one of the blanks for an ISA/VESA slot"

                Ouch, the worst cut I ever got from a case was from the very same thing. I still have a good two centimetre scar on my thumb. On the plus side, that PC accepted my blood sacrifice and was the only one to never give me any trouble for its entire operational lifespan.

            2. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: You missed out

              I always assumed that the lethal metal internals were deliberately there to discourage upgrades. They wanted users to buy a more expensive jobby than they needed, with faster (more expensive ) CPU and various extras just so that they could get the bigger hdd or ram that they actually did need, rather than buying a more basic model and sticking the extras in themselves.

          5. Jonathan 27

            Re: You missed out

            They were just the cheapest junk you could find. My sister used to have this "incredibly cute" cat-shaped case that had internals there were seemingly designed to cut and maim the technician. I literally cut myself, badly enough that it bled, several times on the cursed thing.

            When we wanted me to upgrade the computer with a new motherboard (and all the trimmings) I made up some excuse about the case not supporting new motherboards and got her one of those Cheiftech/Antec "dragon" style cases that everyone and their mother had back int the day. And now my sister builds her own computers so she can buy all the sharp cases she likes... But she didn't and has a reasonable Lian-Li case.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Good design my a***

          Modern PCs with on button that is camouflaged into the trim so that a user new to the machine spends several minutes prodding bits of plastic until one of them moves. And only a few years ago a spanking new PC on our desks at work with a DVD tray button at just the right height to get knocked by a user's hand when moving the mouse, so that the tray would shoot out suddenly.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Good design my a***

            Some of them were so sharp that you could happily lacerate your entire hand without noticing until you came to percussively reattach the beige case components leaving a large, bloody handprint over the side of the machine. PC maintenance by an Orcish clan.

            1. Scott 53

              Re: Good design my a***

              I've still got a scar from a Compaq desktop in 1999. Went septic, that one.

          2. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Good design my a***

            >Modern PCs with on button that is camouflaged into the trim so that a user new to the machine spends several minutes prodding bits of plastic until one of them moves.

            Lenovo are guilty of that. And sometime they do something daft, like put a WiFi On/Off switch next to the Power button.

            Oh, a bloody stupid laptop of a friends - the WiFi wouldn't work, and I couldn't turn it on in Windows. It eventually turns out that the little blue light on the WiFi Fn Key actually denotes 'Off', and pressing Fn-Key turns it to Orange (On). FFS! What the hell is wrong with "Light = On, No Light = Off?"

            My bloody Dell Laptop has a row of unlit media / volume softkeys. The stupid thing? These softkeys light up ONLY when you are touching them. What the hell is that good for? And being softkeys, I can't identify themin the dark by touch. Grr.

            It is irritations like these that cause me to attempt to be an advocate for good design. And no, 'design' isn't merely what something looks like.

            1. TRT Silver badge

              Re: Good design my a***

              I had a Sony Vaio once that persistently failed to connect to WiFi. The power switch was a fancy sprung loaded slide to activate job that also released the clamshell lock. It was located right next to the WiFi /Airplane mode on/off slide switch which was about 2mm thick with a tactile surface. There was no Wi/Fi on/off light either, it was a green on-screen display.

              Every time the user opened the clamshell, they clicked Airplane mode to on. I would go through a whole load of shitty superstitious mumbo jumbo removing drivers and adding them back and taking them away again and putting them back again... and then miraculously it would work. I had usually rested my thumb on the switch and pushed it back on by accident.

              It took about 6 months and 6 visits from the professor in question before I eventually downloaded the manual and decided to read it page by page to see what was going on. Then, THEN, I noticed the little line with a number on the end pointed at the edge of the Vaio, and THEN I decided to look up what Number 7 was, and saw it was "Airplane Mode".

              1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

                Re: Good design my a***

                Wifi on/off buttons have to be the most pointless bloody thing to adorn modern laptops. Early Sony computers used to have a sliding switch. It was black, on a black background, and even if you knew it was there, it was hard to find. And easy to accidently slide to "off". Other laptops have a big button to do it. Why?? I'll rephrase that. No I won't. Why?? The laptop is useless without wifi! I can see there would be the odd use-case for turning off wifi, but to make it a key that's prominent, or even not prominent but easily accidentally pressed, such as "FN-2" or something, is just crass. It causes so much frustration among users who quite frankly don't care.

                1. Down not across

                  Re: Good design my a***

                  Why?? I'll rephrase that. No I won't. Why?? The laptop is useless without wifi!

                  Ever tried to use a corporate laptop that tries to contact DC and bunch of other services, before you have had chance to login to VPN to make them available?

                  Being able to turn wifi off means windows (no, linux is often not an option on corporate machines) will complete login/resume from sleep in few seconds instead of spending several minutes trying to connect somewhere being utterly unresponsive until it finally gives up.

                  Just because you have no need for it doesn't mean others might not find it very useful or even necessary.

                  1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                    Re: Good design my a***

                    Or simply away from the WiFi with low battery and no immediate need to use the Interwebs.

                2. G7mzh

                  Re: Good design my a***

                  The laptop is useless without wifi! I can see there would be the odd use-case for turning off wifi, but to make it a key that's prominent, or even not prominent but easily accidentally pressed

                  I raely use my laptop for the internet (the one on my desk does that), but frequently use it for the church Powerpoint and recording meetings. In neither of those do I want it connected - or trying to connect - to the outside world.

                  It's an HP, and the wifi switch is a dedicated button, with associated pilot light (light on = wifi on) well away from anything else.

            2. Richard Barnes

              Re: Good design my a***

              Something similar on my Asus laptop, where the on/off button is exactly the same size and shape as the Delete button right next to it. Guess how many times I have turned off my laptop by accident.

              1. Gene Cash Silver badge

                Re: Good design my a***

                on/off button is exactly the same size and shape as the Delete button right next to it

                I've had more than one of those. I usually pop off the power button, so either I use the normal Linux shutdown command, or if things are completely TITSUP I used a pen or car key to press what's left of the button.

              2. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Good design my a***

                I've resorted to the trusty Brother labeller in a number of cases of ambiguous buttons.

                Ugly, but usually does the trick

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Good design my a***

              Oh, a bloody stupid laptop of a friends - the WiFi wouldn't work, and I couldn't turn it on in Windows. It eventually turns out that the little blue light on the WiFi Fn Key actually denotes 'Off', and pressing Fn-Key turns it to Orange (On)

              And if you are dealing with an HP laptop with wireless....

              Blue light = on, orange light = off

              1. Updraft102

                Re: Good design my a***

                I was thinking the same thing. I have an HP laptop belonging to a family member here that I was supposed to fix. I did fix it, but that nutty wireless LED threw me at first too.

            4. Someone Else Silver badge

              @Dave 126 -- Re: Good design my a***

              The ultimate triumph of form over function. Marketing: 1, Rest of the World: 0.

          3. kain preacher

            Re: Good design my a***

            That's what happens when you let a sadist design computer cases.

          4. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

            Re: Good design my a***

            Or computers from the early 2010s that had power buttons on the top. So if you had the thing on a desk and had to lean over it, or you put something on it, you'd inadvertently shut it down.

            1. a_yank_lurker

              Re: Good design my a***

              @anthonyhegedus - Or the cat turns it on or off depending on whether you are using it.

        3. Siberian Hamster

          Ah those wonderful Turbo buttons with a 2 digit 7 segment display that was set just with a jumper board. We had a problem at my first place where those displays started showing FU when the turbo button was depressed..., they never did work out who was doing it...

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            A Turbo Button... when pressed, it uses the movement of air from the PC's fan to increase the amount of flammable liquid that is injected inside the machine. (Or at least I've used computers that I have wanted to go up in flames)

            1. NBCanuck

              Turbo Button

              For a brief while the Turbo button was my friend. When I upgraded from a 386 to a 486 processor and tried to play Wing Commander the performance with the larger ships was much smoother than with the 386, but it was too sensitive (for me) when flying the little scout ships. Turning Turbo off slowed things down and made it playable.

              1. Ben Bonsall

                Re: Turbo Button

                The really hard bits in Prince of Persia became so much easier with turbo mode off...

              2. The Brave Sir Robin

                Re: Turbo Button

                Turbo buttons should've been called snail buttons. When 'on' the PC ran at its normal speed. When 'off' it was slowed down so older badly written games would play properly.

                1. Down not across

                  Re: Turbo Button

                  Turbo buttons should've been called snail buttons.

                  That is actually a valid point. In non-turbo mode the CPU would be clocked at 4.77 MHz and in turbo mode it would be usually around 8-10MHz. Wasn't just for gamed though. IIRC some ISA cards didn't always play nice with higher clock speeds, which was probably more due to bad implementation by some motherboards.

                2. Chloe Cresswell

                  Re: Turbo Button

                  Technically, it's the other way around:

                  When Turbo is "on" (switch on) the machine runs at slow speed, when it's off the machine runs at it's normal speed.

            2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              "A Turbo Button... increase the amount of flammable liquid that is injected inside the machine."

              The BOFH column is over there --->

          2. Stoneshop

            We had a problem at my first place where those displays started showing FU

            And HA? (FUll and HAlf speed, obviously)

            when the turbo button was depressed..

            That's because it was a very ugly button.

          3. Down not across

            2-digit 7-segment display

            Ah those wonderful Turbo buttons with a 2 digit 7 segment display that was set just with a jumper board.

            I used to (sometimes) wire those via a little homebrew logic to the ISA bus to watch POST codes as the machine was (or not, as often could be the case) coming up.

            Given it was not particularly great deal of effort, I was somewhat surprised no case/computer manufacturer never (that I remeber) offered that as an option.

      2. Pen-y-gors


        @not that andrew

        "what sort of numpty"

        Fair play here. I had the same story from a friend, but the user was a senior officer at the Met! But remember how the world was back then. We're probably talking early 1980s. Most of these users had never seen a PC before, and probably got damn all training. They read the instruction that said "Put the disk into the slot on the front of the computer". Okay, there's a long thin slot about the width of the disk and another odd thing with a funny bit of plastic in front of it that's blocking the hole. Looks a bit too wide anyway. I know which slot a lot of people would quite reasonably choose.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "[...] the slot with the recess in the middle and a large lever over it [...]"

        The slim 5.25 drives were not so obvious. They had a flat fascia and the eject button didn't protrude until a disk was loaded. See picture below for example.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I wonder how many of these tales are true.... 5"1/4 readers were quite large, had a lever to lock the disk and allow access to it, and had a recessed area to grasp the disk for removal. Unlike some CD players, they had not a thin slot and an eject button.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Never underestimate the foolishness of the average user. Really, don't.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Never underestimate the foolishness of the average user. Really, don't."

          true - one of them even worked out how the "downvote" thing works ..... {cue more people trying that out}

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Never underestimate the foolishness of the average user

          Or their chidren. Once, while working at Chinaman Joe's PC Emporium*, we had a computer come back with a 3.5" drive that would not accept disks. We removed the drive from the PC and, just for shits and grins, removed the cover of the drive whereupon we found a grey plastic gear sitting right in the middle of the drive. We were wrong in assuming the gear was a part of the mechanicals that had managed to escape the bonds that held it in place for, as we marveled at the sight, the Chinese guy that assemvbled the computers came by, looked and exclaimed "Rego! My kid pray with those"! We turned the gear over and, sure enough, there was the Lego logo. Put everything back together, tested the drive and charged the customer for allowing his kid to get to close to the computer.

          *Names changed to protect the Guilty.

          1. Updraft102

            Re: Never underestimate the foolishness of the average user

            Transforming L sounds into R sounds is typically Japanese. Chinese (at least in the case of my boss at the PC Emporium!) tends to go the other way, with a R sound becoming an L sound.

          2. Trixr

            Re: Never underestimate the foolishness of the average user

            If you're going to imitate a Mickey-Rooney-quality "Asian" accent, get your Rs and Ls right. The Chinese pronounce Ls, the Japanese pronounce Rs. So your "Chinaman" would be Japanese given that sample. But never let accuracy get in the way of an ethnic stereotype.

        3. Toni the terrible Bronze badge


          No, not foolishness but sheer ignorance, lack of training and the like. You can call the elderly typist (some 30 yers ago) a fool for snowpaking the green screen word processor (only once mind you), but that is just unkind.

    3. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Not quite the same... But I had a Mac where the floppy disk drive broke. I took it out hoping to get a new one, but that was at a time when floppy disks were on their way out, so I never got a new drive and forgot all about it.

      About a year later I was handed a floppy disk that I needed to read. Put it where the floppy disk used to be. Plop! It was gone... Opened the Mac, took the floppy disk out, found someone who could read it and got the contents over the network.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I've absent-mindedly pushed an SD card into the side-mounted optical drive on an iMac more than once.

        Thankfully, Jonny Ive has made that problem a thing of the past by removing the optical drive entirely and hiding the SD slot somewhere round the back amongst a rat's nest of cables. Bloody genius that man.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "You will not believe how many times I have seen this one :)"

      Oddly, after over 20 years in this game, I've only seen it once. And that was a nursery (kindergarten for you colonials) where a 3 or 4 year old had pushed a CD in the gap. And that was much more understandable since, for practical reasons the PCs were installed with tray-less, slot-type optical drives.

      1. John Gamble

        "And that was a nursery (kindergarten for you colonials) where a 3 or 4 year old... "

        Minor American English quibble: if the children were three or four year-olds, then over here it's a "nursery school". Kindergarten is (generally) for five year-olds, the class just before first grade.

        Good story though.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "Minor American English quibble: if the children were three or four year-olds, then over here it's a "nursery school". Kindergarten is (generally) for five year-olds, the class just before first grade."

          Thanks. AFAIK, nursery school here in the UK is until they start "proper" school, which may be as young as 4 in a reception class, normally 5. That can vary from town to town, but there's nothing in between.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          "Minor American English quibble:"

          If you're further west and south (Australia/NZ) then Kindergarten is 3-5 year olds and it's primary school from 5 onwards. (starting with year1, which used to be primer1)

        3. Trixr

          Actually, for us non-American colonials (in NZ), "kindergarten" refers to pre-school for the ages of 3-4. We start at age 5.

    5. Clive Galway

      Yup, me too.

      Most surprising person to report it was the lead coder on a game.

      F'ing really?? You work as a software developer and you cannot work out how a floppy drive works?

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Had a family member with a cheap computer with a razor blade case and the CD Rom drive stopped working. Went round to open the case up and reconnect the cable that had come loose from the motherboard. Had a brainwave whilst opening the case, I needed protection for my hands. So I asked for some Marigolds in the guise of static electric protection for the PC. Got away without any blood loss during that and subsequent visits.

      Same family member is having an issue with their Sky box later on that night. There was an issue with the viewing card and nothing was working so call technical support i.e. Me. I said take the card out, power down the box and remove power cable. Then wipe the contacts on the card gently before sticking it back in upside down and powering the box up again. "That won't work" comes the interruption and I said I was happy not to help out in future. "But if it's upside down the card won't be able to be read" So I pointed out that of the two people on the call I was the only person who had engineer in their job title. They followed the instructions and at the end I said take the card out and turn it right side up. "F*ck me it's working!!! How do you know all this stuff?" I referred them to my job description.

      1. Rattus Rattus

        "asked for some Marigolds"

        How does a flower stop you cutting your hands?

        (Yes, I know it's obviously a brand name for something but I'm tired of people dropping a brand name in a sentence and assuming everyone knows WTF they're on about.)

        1. jake Silver badge

          Marigold manufactures gloves for a very wide range of uses, from dish washing to surgery to high voltage electrical work.

          I've used their products for years, but this is the first place I've ever seen the brand name used as a generic name like "kleenex" or "hoover" ... and I'm not certain it's a good place to even try to use it as a generic name. Was the original poster talking about a throw-away "dime a dozen" latex gloves, or a pair of US$500 lineman's gauntlets? Marigold manufactures both.

    7. Alan Brown Silver badge

      You'd think the story about misposted floppies is apocryphal but the reality is that it's happened on multiple occasions - as has the "coffee cup holder" and even the "I can't use my computer" call which turns out to be a power cut (2 instances in my own support staff for the latter)

      I've personally encountered (in a previous life) the oft-related story in the TV industry of toddlers posting toast+jam in the front slot of VCRs (which is less damaging than when they put coins in.). The on-call related part of that is that as trainee electronics tech I got the fun jobs like cleaning printing desktop calculators when someone spilled coffee (with what always seemed like 10 sugars) on them and repairing cash registers from busy pubs that had internals swimming in stale beer when the case was opened. (Thankfully my employer used to charge extra for those dirty jobs and paid extra to those doing them too)

      Thankfully these days you can just changeout a keyboard and cash registers tend to be IP67 rated in their electronics parts. Desktop printing calculators are long-gone.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Used to work for a company that sold industrial terminals to factories etc. As the YTS trainee, I would get to clean them. So the one from the cement factory would be full of cement dust (try not to get that one wet), the one form the brewery was full of beer smelling brown dust. No one wanted to touch the one from the chicken farm. And unlike your boss, I didn't get extra!

  2. GlenP Silver badge

    I've had the disks one as well, knew what the story would be as soon as I read the intro.

    1. macjules

      Ditto, but my experience got even nastier in the early/mid 90's. When Iomega brought out the Zip disk there was already a 3.5 M.O. drive on the market for optical storage. Used to get roughly one or 2 call outs per month from graphic design companies where they had stuck a Zip disc into the optical drive or vice versa. Worse than that were said same graphic designers who would try and force a 44Mb Syquest 5.25" disc into a 5.25" M.O. drive, a machine that tended to cost thousands to buy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Those Iomega disk cases were really really thick

        they must have used a hammer to jam them into a normal drive or optical drive.

        Personally I found them so slow you could almost retype the data in the time it took to save and restore, and also randomly decided some disks were not worth reading even right after writing.

        slow, unreliable things...

        1. Danny 14

          Re: Those Iomega disk cases were really really thick

          Ah zip disks. I remember those, they would self brick if you filled them. Great design decision whoever thought that one out.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Worked somewhere where they had specialist keyboards for the software packages they used. One day I get a call from one user saying that the software is kaput as it doesn't respond to some keyboard commands. There had been an update to the software recently but I thought it odd that only one user was affected. Visiting his desk I realised that this bloke was a bit of a slob, there were wrappers everywhere. The specialist keyboard had large 5cmx5cm keys instead of regular keys but was actually just outputting the certain key combinations usually involving the control key. He demonstrated that the software wasn't working by pressing three of the keys and nothing happened.

        The company charged a bit for these things and so it sucked that one had failed. So I plugged in a regular keyboard and tried the troubled key combinations which worked fine. I put in a replacement specialist keyboard and took the other one back to investigate. Upon opening the keyboard up I discovered that there was a wooden lollypop stick that had some how gotten in underneath the keys. The three keys that didn't work had that sticky wood preventing the keys from working. Weirdly he must have done something special to get it under there as we couldn't replicate what he'd done.

  3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge


    attempting to type 'N' produced it and the letter B.

    Well, at least give the user some credit. Their password obviously wasn't "Password1"

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: jam

      They were probably told they could use "anything" as their password.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: jam

        "[..] told they could use "anything" as their password."

        But they couldn't find the key with the legend "any".

        1. Allonymous Coward

          Re: jam

          Because it's Friday, an "any" key cartoon (and not XKCD for a change).

          1. Stratman

            Re: jam

            I was half expecting a "Where's the 'any' key?"...

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: jam

              I used to use "the any is often on the bottom of the keyboard" ... flipping it over had the desired result.

          2. el_oscuro

            Re: jam

            You do know you can actually get those, right?

        2. 2Nick3

          Re: jam

          "But they couldn't find the key with the legend "any"."

          The "any" key? That's the space bar. Manufactures stopped putting a label on it because, as the most used key on the keyboard, the label would wear off and they'd have to replace the key. Not labeling became the standard, and now you have the keyboard you see in front of you.

          I had to have used that 50 times when I worked at the help desk for the big TLA. I got to the point where I could tell if a user was going to have issues with pressing "any key" and would just tell them to hit the space bar. Or "W". Why "W"? Why, so it will Work!

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: "Why W?"

            "No, just W. Any key, but you only need to press one of them once."

            "No, I meant why 'W'?"

            "Yes, I head you the first time. Just W. Not Y. Or just Y without the W."

            "So, you don't need me to press the 'W' key? Why?"

            "Yes, Y."

            "Because I asked you?"

            1. psychonaut

              Re: "Why W?"

              my favorite keyboard layout for our friends in the north west


      2. Olivier2553

        Re: jam

        They were told to use anything and they used abnything... No wonder it did not work.

      3. annodomini2

        Re: jam

        "incorrect" more likely.

        "Your password is incorrect!"

    2. DropBear

      Re: jam

      Definitely not devious enough. Should have told the user their password was Anything1" and set the password to "Anbything1"...

  4. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    Back in the 1990's...

    I worked as a service engineer for a company that resold RS/6000 and SUN Microsystems. One of the strings that the service department also had was a "walk-in" PC clinic for local experiencing problems with their personal computers.

    Quite why it came to me I don't know because I was working on E6500's and E10000s back then, but I was asked to take a look at an old IBM PS/2 system that a guy had dropped in saying that it kept randomly crashing, powering off, and was also making a funny noise. It didn't take me long to work out why when I saw the machine. I lifted the lid and saw that not only was it caked with lint and all manner of fluff and dust, but that that dust and fluff was effectively hard baked to every single component by a disgusting thick layer of treacle-like nicotine tar.

    Thankfully, after we had all almost been sick at the smell and sight of it, the service manager called it out as a health hazard and refused to allow me to work on it.

    1. Jess--

      Re: Back in the 1990's...

      I remember the old PS/2 full tower machines.

      absolutely rock solid (literally) and would work forever on one condition....

      never... ever... clean inside them

      1. el_oscuro

        Re: Back in the 1990's...

        I still have a model M from one of those ancient PS/2s. A good soaking of denture cleaner removed 20 years of gunk from it.

        I used to think that if the zombie apocalypse comes, my model M would be a good weapon for fighting off imps. However a co-worker recently got an anodized aluminium case for a mechanical keyboard. Thing weighs 10 pounds and would be about as effective as Gordon Freeman's crowbar.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Back in the 1990's...

          I picked up a pallet load of IBM 5152s with model M keyboards for US$25 total from Weirdstuff Warehouse over a decade and a half ago. All were new old stock, still in the factory shrinkwrap. Best keyboard ever made, I'm typing on one now :-)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Back in the 1990's...

      A friend worked at home with the PC next to an open window overlooking a dusty country road. She also had two large dogs who moulted their long coats for the summer. She was also a chain smoker.

      Needless to say doing an upgrade on her PC was definitely unhealthy. Communication could be difficult too. The open window caught the full impact of international flights with their undercarriage down as they approached the runaway about 1 mile distant.

      She also had the novel problem of burning out modems. In the end a spark arrester solved that problem - presumably lightning induced.

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Back in the 1990's...

      I worked at a plant that baked fuller's earth into cat litter and oil&grease absorbent.

      We had 3 CompuPro S-100 machines networked together (which should tell you how long ago this was)

      A regular monthly maintenance chore was dumping fine white silt out of the S-100 boxes and 8" floppy drives.

  5. Aladdin Sane


    Raspberry. There's only one man who would dare give me the raspberry! Lone Starr!

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: Jammed...

      Actually, my first thought was "Penfold's been nervous again".

      And your comment makes me think of The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London Town.

      For all those of you now thinking "huh? Wossee on about?"...just ignore my ancient cultural references. Showing my age here :(

      1. Red Bren

        Re: Jammed...

        And your comment makes me think of The Phantom Flan Flinger Of Old London Town.

        Nostalgia is heroin for old people...

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Jammed...

          Ah! Now, you're reminding me of Chris Tarrant, and his railway ventures.

          Which makes me think of the Phantom Flange Ringer of the Old Railway Yard.

          Which makes me think of The Wheelltappers and Shunters Social Club.

          1. Stevie

            Re: Jammed...

            Which reminds me of the aging co-worker who would bang on about his Californian dietary oddness and his gun collection when he was a consultant during the early dotcom boom, when he was a member of the Veal, Snapper and Hunters Lo-Cal Club.

        2. Woza

          Re: Jammed...

          What about the Phantom Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-On-Sea?

          (Icon: batter pudding just after impact)

    2. Updraft102

      Re: Jammed...


    3. el_oscuro

      Re: Jammed...

      Literally the first thing I thought about when I read the title:

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not just disks.....

    I work for a large organisation and a number of years ago we used two form authentication to log users on, ie they presented a “smart card” to a smart card reader (a seperate device attached via USB cable) and then typed a password in when prompted.

    As with any large setup we had a small pool of regular customers, those special individuals who always pushed the boundaries of ineptitude.

    One day one of our regulars contacted us…they had lost their smart card inside the PC. Almost fearing what I would discover I went up to see them. What I found was that after 2 years of routinely inserting the smart card into it’s reader each morning, on this particular day the user had decided to feed the smart card into the PC's floppy disk drive. And of course, just to make sure it worked they shoved it in as far as they could...

    A few minutes with a dental probe (don’t ask) and a blob of blu tac retrieved the card. But to this day I cannot forget their blasé attitude, it was as if it was the most natural mistake in the world to make….

  7. jake Silver badge

    I pulled a ...

    ... partially eaten PB&J sandwich out of a Betamax player once. Years later, the abuser of said Beta machine called me to own up, and to tell me ... rather than re-typeing it, read here:

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: I pulled a ...

      Small children, spread enhanced bread products and VCRs were a combination made in hell. I helped out a few friends with rug rats over the years. Cleaning peanut butter, jam, or worse Marmite, off video heads is a tedious pastime.

  8. Daedalus

    Running out of new material?

    What happened to long treks to nowhere to jiggle a connector? Playing phone tag with a sales droid who forwarded his phone to his mistress?

    Next weeks topics : boob keyboarding and mice with go-faster stripes.

  9. VanguardG

    Not a design problem, more of an engineer problem. Many years ago, I was a lowly bench technician, but was allowed to go into the field with the network engineers from time to time to gain real world experience. The engineer had already built the server and pre-installed Netware - the client was cheap, so it was just a desktop with a NIC and SCSI controller whacked into the expansion slots, with the appropriate drives stuffed into the "drive bays". Should have been a matter of just going out there, plugging in the half-dozen or so various cables, and poking the power button. How this experience was giving me any experience, I don't know, but I was instructed to go with him for the installation.

    So, we arrive, haul the thing in, assign all the plugs to the correct receptacle...and nothing. Not even the power supply fan. After the required foul language at very low volume, we set about figuring the problem. I spin out the screws and open the case. The expansion slot covers that the engineer had removed to install the NIC and controller had simply been laid inside the case, loose. They had then slid around and wedged between the motherboard and the case, and were shorting the whole thing out. Removed them, and everything came up as intended. Oops.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Bloody lucky!

    2. David 132 Silver badge

      Several years ago, a colleague brought to me a PC that he'd built for himself - I'd acquired a reputation within the company of being someone who'd fix/upgrade PCs for little more than some chocolate or cider in recompense.

      Anyway, this PC had two problems:

      1) it wouldn't power on, at all, and

      2) the chassis was faulty - must be, because the ATX I/O shield wouldn't line up with the rear aperture and couldn't be installed.

      Some of you can maybe see where this is going.

      The owner had carefully assembled the PC, but - seeing no need for the small brass standoffs - had methodically screwed the motherboard straight to the base plane of the chassis. So of course it was shorting out in about a hundred places.

      I removed it, and re-installed it with the appropriate standoffs - and, mirabile dictu, it fired straight up, right as rain.

      As a bonus, I was suddenly able to install the I/O shield at the same time. Funny, that.

      But what was even funnier is that the person in question worked for our IT department in a quite senior helpdesk services role. Obviously a software guy and not hardware!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He'll Go Far

    "he changed the password to “QWERTY1” and walked away without cleaning up the jam."

    Helpful young fellow. Too much trouble/money to just swap out a keyboard?

    1. JakHaxz

      Re: He'll Go Far

      You're like the user that complained to me when I replaced their broken keyboard foot with a spare I had,

      instead of replacing their otherwise fully functioning keyboard.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You're like the user

        The difference is - you fixed the problem. This guy walked away.

        If he worked for me, we'd have had a little talk.

      2. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        Re: He'll Go Far

        I once had someone call and say that they can't write an email because their "W" key wasn't working. I replied "That's OK, you can use the word Tosser instead".

    2. DNTP

      Re: He'll Go Far

      Yeah he should have been a little more proactive beyond simply changing the password to something that didn't use the B or N keys. If that were one of my staff, I'd laugh about it and then be like, "But seriously, do a more complete job next time."

      Especially since the user is just immediately going to open another ticket about a broken keyboard, that the tech or his colleagues are going to have to address.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: He'll Go Far

      "Helpful young fellow. Too much trouble/money to just swap out a keyboard?"

      Maybe it was a long enough ago that keyboards were still expensive and accessible enough to be repairable and he was leaving the user with the self-inflicted damage which s/he should have been aware of to then log as a new call when s/he realised what was happening when typing in a document. Back then it was often a disciplinary offence to eat or drink at or near your computer. More recent experience, especially with some expensive laptop repairs tells me it still should be!

      1. Mark 85

        Re: He'll Go Far

        My first support job in IT required that keyboards be taken apart and cleaned rather than tossed in the bin and issue a new one due to cost. It was cheaper to spend two hours opening it up and cleaning it than to replace it. I had total disbelief as to the stuff I found in them... chicken bones (yes bones... small ones however), new and interesting civilizations growing them, the usual donut cookie/biscuit crumbs, etc. Then there was the post-it note with a phone number that a marketing droid had folded up and shoved it under the Enter/Return key when his wife showed up at that office one day.

  11. Alistair Silver badge

    Personal experience.

    SWMBO and I are gamers.

    Have had numerous computers, and usually used them fairly hard. When our eldest was about 4 or so (... late 90's) we were engaged in a lan match when her computer started displaying rather weirded out images and then powering off. After the third event, we gave up in frustration and she wandered off with a friend to go to a cinema show.

    I spent about an hour or so checking drivers, config options etc. And finally opened up the case. (recall that our *eldest* was 4, middle here would have been 2) and found, sitting nicely on the back side of her ATI video card, a chocolate chip cookie. Essentially until the video card was under heavy load, an inert object in context of the machine. Under load, the cookie oozed chocolate in liquid form....

    (the back side of the case was exposed to the living room due to the orientation of the desk - and I'd left off one of the slot covers ... silly me.)

    When she got back I told her that her video problem was due to cookies on her machine. {at the time she was taking a web development course. The look I got was priceless}

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Personal experience.

      Some of the chips had melted...

      1. quxinot

        Re: Personal experience.

        Trying to decide if an Acorn joke gets me downvotes or upvotes here... :D

        Yes yes, that's mine, with half a PB&J in the pocket.

  12. TRT Silver badge

    If there was jam in the keyboard...

    it was probably Cherry.

    1. adam 40 Silver badge

      Re: If there was jam in the keyboard...

      or Apricot.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A friend complained that her relatively new PC was intermittently powering itself off and she was getting desperate. So she put it in the car and paid me a Sunday visit. Set it up and waited - and sure enough after a while it suddenly powered down.

    Opened it up to reveal an almost pristine insides. Then I accidentally brushed my hand against he cpu heatsink - ouch! The problem was then obvious - a unsecured wire was stopping the cpu fan from rotating. Re-routing the wire then showed that the fan was dead from being stalled for months.

    As the shops were all closed it was a case of rummaging in the spares box. Luckily the fan was only held by screws into the heatsink fin gaps - so a jury rig of a slightly bigger diameter fan was secured with only two screws. Apparently it then worked perfectly for the life of the PC.

    1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

      I've actually fitted a 92mm fan over the CPU heatsink and I ended up jury rigging it with just one screw. Beat that!

  14. Herby

    On where power buttons are...

    On the nice Mac All-in-one (really nice by the way) the power button is nicely hidden on the BACK of the one piece display/CPU/etc. When I first started, I had to ask where it was as it is not even visible from the front of the machine. Luckily I did that before the person showing me the office had walked out the door. Said button is nicely disguised and hard to see unless you are looking directly at the back of the machine, which is difficult when it is close to a wall.

    Oh, well...

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: On where power buttons are...

      I despise Apple desktop design.

      It's clearly only for looking at, not for using.

      The keyboard and mouse that come with them are almost unusable, and charging the mouse is ridiculous!

      Yes, I also wasted 20min trying to figure out how to turn it on. Why hide the power button? TVs have put them on the edge for decades.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: On where power buttons are...

        A fat-fingered friend of mine only uses Apple keyboards on his PC. He wishes their wireless version had a number pad though. YMMV.

        Whilst the Apple mouse can't be used whilst charging, mice go for weeks or months on a charge and give plenty of warning of low battery, so I'm not sure why a user would need to charge the mouse whilst using it.

        The decision to put the SD card reader on the back of iMacs is a bit daft.

        The 'cheesegrater' Mac Pro was one of the easiest to service desktops ever made.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: On where power buttons are...

          They used to be good. The "cheesegrater" desktop was indeed very good.

          The current keyboards are poor laptop ones. No feel, too small and so many keys missing.

          Charging the mouse means flipping it upside down or resting it on the charge cable.

          There's no indication of charge level whatsoever - when is it fully charged? The paired Mac will warn you if it's nearly flat if it's running, but there's no other indication at all.

  15. Manhandle

    I bet you try this

    Did you know that a USB cable is exactly the same width as an Ethernet Cable connector?

    Also you can fit two USB lead connectors in an Ethernet socket?

    They don't however work despite protests that 'They have always been plugged in there'

    1. Jonathan 27

      Re: I bet you try this

      If it didn't kill the port, you're lucky. I've seen that many times and it almost always leads to a broken Ethernet port.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: I bet you try this

        There was also the time that I was stuck repairing an eMachine (A terrible, low end, cheap machine that (barely) ran windows 98se, let alone XP which some ignoramus slapped on it) which had a _destroyed_ USB port.

        Apparently, someone tried plugging in a USB device on the back port, and it wouldn't fit. Not content with turning the USB cable over, they just rammed the thing in, breaking the connector in such a way that it shorted the portion of the chip the circuit traces ran to.

        There was exactly *two* usb ports on the entire machine to begin with- one in front, one in the back. (the one in the back was the trashed one).

        Ironicly enough, the thing still had the display sticker plastered on the front of the case proudly proclaiming that would "never need to be upgraded!". (Primarily because you _couldn't_ upgrade it, and they were cheap enough that you tossed it and bought a Real Computer afterwards.)

  16. An Amorous Howard

    Training Days

    As a young engineer, many years ago, working for a large computer company, a number of us went on a training course on a newly released server; For a laugh one of our number decided to create a new banner message in the boot prom (along with a little loop so it only appeared every third boot, to make it appear a little random) reading 'Jason <redacted> sucks hard cocks for cash'. How we laughed.

    The following week the system was used for customer rather than internal training.

    Said Jason was subsequently dragged in front of management, where he had to patiently explain, that if he had in fact done it, he would not have put his own name on the message.

    1. akeane
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Training Days

      Maybe they suspected Jason was trying to get free advertisements for his "services"...

  17. JCDenton

    Is that Black Currant jam!??!?! I love that stuff, but I can't get it normally because I am filthy traitorous bluecoat.

  18. Conundrum1885

    MoRe inPuT

    I've been known to use Sellotape and fine tweezers to extract SIM cards from phones when some eejit tried putting the wrong card in.

    Amazingly it worked!

    Also: repairing printers, reseating memory chips, fixing printer cartridges.. it is really really handy.

    Not to mention Sellotape + Russian zrzsg plastic graphite = homemade graphene, this won a certain

    Prof. Geim a Nobel back in the day!

    It also works well as an EL dielectric for a while at least, and is just the thing (tm) for insulating PCBs when trying to install tiny modwires or rework tracks for some hack or other.

    Kaptop tape is even better and has been even used in production for this very purpose.

  19. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Jammed Keyboard?

    Replace it with a dishwasher safe keyboard.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The worst thing I had to deal with was defective power cords. Two kinds one that if was not all the way seated in and glues the computer restarts. The other was cheap knock offs that would shut the machine off if just ever so slightly bumped.

  21. Suburban Inmate

    A Motorola phone, after a repair place failed.

    Needed a new charging port, which I was unable to fit, not having a fine enough soldering iron.

    Another fault? I thought it odd there seemed to be writing inside the microSD slot. Yup, the repair kiosk numpty had somehow managed to replace the back with the mSD still in the slot. Which was now pretty much buggered. I managed to rescue about 2.5 jpegs from it.

  22. ysth

    Kitty hair and ramen

    This reminded me of this classic:

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

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