back to article My PC is on fire! Can you back it up really, really fast?

Welcome again to On-Call, The Register’s weekly reader-contributed column in which we tease out tales from the trenches of tech support. This week, meet “Rick” who used to work for an outsourced tech support company that worked for several big technology brands. Rick answered calls for Microsoft, Iomega, 3Com, Dell, Corel “ …

  1. tip pc Silver badge

    Go with the flow,

    200% turn over, if rates are that high then it’s likely best to go with tide rather than fight against it, they can’t all be wrong especially if you need counselling after.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Go with the flow,

      At one place, I got the IT Manager job 4 times in 5 years... The first was fired, I took over until they found a replacement - who had a nervous breakdown inside a year, the same procedure again, the next had a nervous breakdown after 18 months, the next didn't survive his probationary period...

      I finally quit before I had a nervous breakdown...

    2. Vector

      Re: Go with the flow,

      Lemme fix that for ya:

      Little things like that mean a lot to Rick because life on that any help desk wasn’t much fun.

      Until remote access, the help desk was wave after wave of "what do you mean?" and "No, I can't find that button." (the one square in the middle of the top of the screen). Gawd forbid you should have to send out a tech since then you'd spend the next 2-4 hours fielding "where's my tech!?" calls.

      On the plus side, you did learn never to underestimate the potential ignorance of users.

      1. Anonymous C0ward

        Re: Go with the flow,

        Once worked for an IT waste refurbishment (new stickers on old junk) company, no formal customer support although the owners were ex IT support people themselves. I had to take someone through booting from an XP install CD, getting to the recovery command prompt and doing chkdsk /f, over the phone, letter by letter. Disk corruption caused by not shutting down.

        There were occasional good days, like when we got in a BBC Master that turned out to have the Domesday Project SCSI controller and second processor fitted. If they had the Laserdisc drive too I'd have taken it off their hands myself in short order.

  2. Olivier2553

    Funny coincidence...

    No later than last Wednesday, it was 22 o'clock, I was just asleep when I received a phone call from one of our department secretaries: a student had call in panic, there was a fire in my office.

    They unplugged the machine and I went back to sleep.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Funny coincidence...

      I would not be scared of the IT problems (this aint no TSB...). I'd be scared of normal human function! If the building/thing in the building is on fire, the first thing to do is NOT wake up IT management in the middle of the night!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

    As I recall there was some Bunsen burners involved and a classroom blind, followed by a swift trip to the staff room to admit "there has been a small fire in the classroom".

    Personally never managed to get further than loud bangs and smoke in my IT experience. No actual fire.

    I do recall possessing an Iomega ZIP drive though. It worked some of the time, was about as fast as retyping my documents on another screen and was disturbingly temperamental when trying to read files back (sometimes total loss) telling me disks had been corrupted within a few minutes of them being written. Biggest waste of cash in my youth (that's IT related...)

    1. John Riddoch

      Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

      Only real school fire we had was a small one in the woodwork room (I was nowhere near it, so don't know all the details). The rector (head teacher) decided it would be a great opportunity for a fire evacuation test. As we got to the top of the stairs, we could smell the burning smell which had permeated through the corridors - it certainly added a little more urgency to a fire alarm test!

      1. Russell Chapman Esq.

        Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

        Not a fire story, a cyanide gas story. High school in the 80's, chemistry teacher decided to demonstrate how cyanide gas is produced, mixed the appropriate ingredients in the gas extraction chamber and we were advised to stand back, during the experiment, the chamber decided to break down and was partially open to the rest of the lab. Cue very urgent shouts from teacher to 'get the fuck out as fast as possible'. As the chamber was near the door we rather ungracefully exited via the windows. If the lab had not been on the ground floor, I reckon it could have turned into a pretty nasty situation.

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

          ...a cyanide gas story...

          I'm curious as to what made the teacher in question think that this would ever be a good idea, as opposed to...say...CO2 or H2 gas? And, assuming he thought it over several times and decided it *would* be a good idea, why he would ever use anything more than a minute quantity of chemicals, since cyanide is colorless.

          For the more adventurous:

          1. kain preacher

            Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

   See bad chemical accident.

            In the US there is almost no regulations of labs in schools in the US.

          2. Russell Chapman Esq.

            Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

            I'm guessing you are from a younger generation than me. Way back when, we had specific teachers for chemistry, physics and biology, each a specialist in their own field and they all loved the experimental lessons. Two lessons of each field of science a week, one theory, the other, getting hands dirty in the labs. It was all about the adventure of discovery, doing stuff that wouldn't always be in the exam paper but was fascinating to learn. This was high school back then, 11-18 year olds being presented with stuff that could blow your mind, or kill it, as per the cyanide gas demonstration. Yes, the gas is colourless but we were transfixed watching the experiment, knowing the gas could wreak so much harm, it was like watching silent death, we were in awe, so when the extraction chamber broke down it was frightening yet exhilarating to escape at the same time.

            1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

              Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

              Stuff we did in the labs when I was at school which I bet kids aren't allowed to do nowadays...

              - Burning strips of magnesium in a bunsen burner

              - Dropping lumps of sodium into dishes of water

              - Filling a cocoa tin with gas and letting it burned down until the gas:air ratio was explosive, causing the lid to shoot across the room

              - Various experiments involving mercury

              - Making gun cotton

              1. MrBanana Silver badge

                Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                "Dropping lumps of sodium into dishes of water"

                Our chemistry teacher was a small man, but liked big experiments. He took a cork sized chunk of sodium out of the oil filled jar, and cut a small piece off - about the size of a dried pea. We watched it fizz around in a petri dish for a few seconds. Ho hum. Then he told us that potassium was more reactive. To demonstrate this we were led outside, with a similar, oil filled jar of cork sized potassium chunks, one of which he lobbed into the swimming pool. Bang - science!

                1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                  Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                  "To demonstrate this we were led outside, with a similar, oil filled jar of cork sized potassium chunks"

                  Next up: caesium.

                2. ridley

                  Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                  First week of GTP teacher training ie training by teaching.

                  Scheme of work said to show students that phosphorous didn't conduct electricity by clipping leads to each end of a small rod of phosphorous and showing no current flowed. Thought, strange but must be OK as in SOW.

                  Students on one side of desk me on the other, dry of phosphorous with tissue and attach leads. Show no cur rent flowing. Leads curl up break phosphorous rod which ignites and is flicked towards students. At which point I do not quite think straight and brush the bits of burning phosphorous back towards me with my hand.

                  Result? My hand is now on fire, so I try to put it out by smothering it with the tissue (not thinking straight see). So now my hand is on fire AND the tissues, at which point I completely lose the ability to think straight and throw the burning tissues in the bin. So now my hand, the tissues and the bin are on fire.

                  Eventually I manage to get it under control. Open the windows to get rid of the smell of burning paper and, well, flesh.

                  I can hear outide a commotion about the smell and so decide to control it by opening the door to explain. When I open the door, holding my burnt hand behind me, there right in my face is the headmistress, together with the chair of governors.

                  I look at her she looks at me, seconds pass. Eventally she says "Chemistry?", I say "Yes", she says "OK" and walks off.

                  I had small burn holes to the bone....phosphorous was taken off that SOW.

                  On the plus side the kids absolutely loved it and asked for an encore.

                3. IanDs

                  Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                  Nerd at school who shall remain nameless had father who worked at chemical works (Hickson & Welch in Castleford), asked him to bring a lump of sodium home to try this. "Lump" turned out to be a brick -- named due to size -- kept under oil. Nerd builds motorised Meccano conveyor belt the length of back garden, places large bucket filled with water at far end, places sodium brick in Tupperware container of oil on belt, starts belt, runs for cover. Cue large smoking crater in lawn, bits of Meccano and garden fence found several gardens away...

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                    Is that the best you've got?!

                    My High School Chemistry teacher had a student that was always asking him a bunch of hypothetical questions about nuclear reactors--which of course he answered, without ever realizing that this lunatic was actually building a nuclear reactor in his mom's shed!

                    From what my teacher told us, this kid had been contacting these companies, requesting samples of their products for various research projects--which was how he was able to source the materials without spending very much money.

                    I don't know how this kid ever ended up making Eagle Scout after that, or how he never did any time in jail--but if you follow the tragic arc of his life it still didn't end well for him.

                    He was like a radioactive version of a firebug (or pyromaniac) with the way that he seemed to be drawn to throughout his entire life. It's sad that he didn't live to see what life has been like since Trump got into office, because we haven't been this close to nuclear war since the 80's--and I think he probably would have appreciated that threat looming.

                    You can read more about him here:

                    1. RangerFish

                      Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                      There was an incident at work once. An A/C engineer was on site to work on the unit in our datacenter, but he forgot to put the fire suppression system into safe mode before turning the A/C off.

                      Because the A/C was off, the temperature rose and triggered the CO2 because the system thought there was a fire.

                      The guy is lucky to be alive (he had to go to hospital).

                      Edit: just remembered a separate incident when my dad put up a picture above the fireplace. He spotted an electrical switch he'd never noticed before (they'd lived there for several years I think) near the fireplace. He shrugged it off thinking if it was important they'd have known about it. He started to drill into the wall, coincidentally directly above that switch. The sparkys amongst you know what happens next. He woke up at the other side of the room, shaken but thankfully otherwise unhurt.

                      1. Baldrickk

                        Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                        That fire story seems familiar:


                4. rototype

                  Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                  Our Chemistry teacher used one of those wide glass bowls for that experiment - Sodium was fine, fizzed and popped over the surface but the Potassium exploded (I think it ignited the gas it was producing) and split the glass bowl drenching the teacher from about the waist downwards. He didn't do Potassium the next year...

              2. DavCrav Silver badge

                Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                "- Dropping lumps of sodium into dishes of water"

                I can confirm that you haven't been able to do that for a while. We had to watch a video of it.

              3. Martin Silver badge
                Thumb Up

                Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                Stuff we did in the labs when I was at school which I bet kids aren't allowed to do nowadays...

                Yes, all of those, plus my personal favourite - using a Van Der Graaf generator to get yourself charged up to several zillion volts, then lighting a Bunsen burner with the static spark. We actually used that as a demo at our School Open Day!

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                  When I was a new teacher I made many mistakes. One of which was knowing when to and when not to tell students what to do/not to do.

                  With one year 8 class we were doing some experiment but unfortunately the chemicals had become contaminated and we started producing quit a lot of Hydrogen Sulphide.

                  No doubt you know hydrogen suplhide is bad egg gas what you might not know is that it is lethal at quite low concentrations (it is extremely smelly at minute concentrations).

                  So I decided to evacuate the classroom. I explained to the students what we were going to do and told them "Whatever you do do NOT sniff the test tubes". At which point it was like being at a Colombian marching powder testing centre.

                  Outside many students complained of feeling unwell (they wanted to sit in the sun) but CLEAPS said to watch over them whilst they 'recover'.

                  They ALL recovered when the eos bell went.

                  However on getting home they no doubt told their parents all about it and what with the school having to inform the parents the end result was 1/3 went to hospitals for a check up.

                  1/3 a new record!

                  (Of course there was nothing wrong, panicky parents)

                  Moral: if you don't want kids to do something don't tell them not to do it.

              4. ridley

                Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                We are allowed to do the exploding can.

                Problem is good metal cans are really hard to find now, most paint comes in plastic ones as do biscuits etc.

                Anyone got a suggestion for a reliable source?

                1. rototype

                  Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

                  Try looking for paint with the really nasty environmental hazard stickers on it - they generally come in metal cans. (don't think plastic can hold it)

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Metal cans

                  We are allowed to do the exploding can....

                  ...Anyone got a suggestion for a reliable source?

                  IIRC we used a golden syrup tin although black treacle is the same construction quality - it was ~40 years ago mind ;-)

        2. Mark 85 Silver badge

          @Russell Chapman Esq.

          It's probably a good thing then that the instructor didn't try nitrating glycerin then. We had one go wrong at the high school I went to. The teacher lost several fingers and everyone's ears rang for several days.

          1. Cpt Blue Bear

            Re: @Russell Chapman Esq.

            "It's probably a good thing then that the instructor didn't try nitrating glycerin then. We had one go wrong at the high school I went to. The teacher lost several fingers and everyone's ears rang for several days."

            My chemistry teacher gave us the sage advice not to make more than a teaspoon of nitroglycerin at a time. That way when it exploded we'd still have the fingers on the other hand to dial the ambulance.

        3. swm Silver badge

          Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

          Students in one unnamed institution had a habit of adding acid to NaCN to generate cyanide gas when it was a nice day outside. The instructor had no choice but to dismiss the class rapidly. It got so bad that they locked up all of the NaCN and tested with litmus paper to make sure you weren't adding it to acid. (The students just added acid later.)

          Another story was the person who resupplied the containers of sodium in the organic chem lab. Sodium is kept under kerosene to prevent it from oxidizing so the procedure was to remove a block from the large shipping jar and take it to a nearby sink and shave off the crud before depositing it in the smaller jars scattered around the lab. When these shavings contacted the water in the sink they would sputter a bit but no harm until someone was running a chem experiment that ejected inflammable into the same sink. The experiment caught fire - still no problem but it set off the sprinkler system. Remember the large open supply jar? Water got into it and promptly started a real fire.The fire department was called.

          The firemen asked, "What's in there? A chem lab? We're not going in there." so the fire just burned itself out.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

          Reminds me of a science enrichment class we had in the 4th grade. Still remember it because the chemistry teacher made tear gas for us to "see what it was like". Was the last item of the day, and everyone had to decide if they wanted to sniff it or not.

          Was an interesting experience, and one of the things I doubt I'll ever forget.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan

        Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

        Only real school fire we had was a small one in the woodwork room

        Not a fire but I once dropped a bottle of concentrated ammonia in the chemistry lab. Sadly, not inside the fume hood..

        (Freshly-washed hands, carry bottle to fume cupboard, managed to knock my hand against the frame of the fume cupboard while not looking. Bottle started to drop with the top firmly on. In trying to catch it, I managed to knock the cap so it became loose. Bottle then hit the floor and spread conc. ammonia all over the floor. That chemistry lab was closed for about 4 days while they dealt with the spill..).

        Mind you, we also did plenty of stuff that involved pyrotechnics (after all, that's mostly the reason why teenage boys do chemistry - in my experience anyway). Including melting the polystyrene ceiling tiles by vastly exceeded the amount of chemicals in the thermite reaction, scaring some 4th-years silly by shooting 2-litre empty lemonade bottles into their chemistry lab from the prep lab, making nitrogen tri-iodide[1] and painting it on cycle-paths[2]..

        [1] Don't try this at home children. No really, don't. Nitrogen tri-iodide is *very* unstable.

        [2] As did my father before me..

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

          "Not a fire but I once dropped a bottle of concentrated ammonia in the chemistry lab. Sadly, not inside the fume hood.."

          My memory is now vague about the substance involved, but I recall my (trustworthy) elder brother returning from a Chemistry lesson one day and relating that someone had knocked over a jar of X. The good news was that it was in the fume cupboard. The bad news was that X was denser than air and so it just went up the chimney and then back down again over the entire school site.

        2. keith_w Bronze badge

          Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

          Since it can be, literally, set off by the touch of a feather, or the touch of alpha particle radiation, how on earth do you manage to paint it on a cycle path?

          1. The Mighty Biff

            Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

            It starts life in solution. It's only when it's dry that it goes bang. That's why it's so wonderful :)

            1. Sam Therapy

              Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

              My dad painted the inside of someone's desk with it. It is, as you say, safe in solution. Not so much later. :)

        3. swm Silver badge

          Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

          Brings back memories of making lots of nitrogen tri-iodide in high school and spreading it on floors to see the beetles blow themselves up. The explosion makes a nice purple cloud.

          Too bad kids today can't play with fun stuff.

          1. Cpt Blue Bear

            Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

            "Brings back memories of making lots of nitrogen tri-iodide in high school and spreading it on floors to see the beetles blow themselves up. The explosion makes a nice purple cloud."

            The same Chem teacher who gave the advice about home made nitroglycerine taught us to make touch powder (as it was known then). Great fun spread on the window sills in summer to catch out unsuspecting blow flies. Bzzzzz, CRACK, snigger.

            Also fun to spread on pathways which lead to the hilarious sight of a friend demonstrating her dance class piece accompanied by a series of bangs and pops. Hilarious as performance art goes. I wish I had a video of it but not of the bollocking we got shortly after.

        4. IanDs

          Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

          Nitrogen tri-iodide sprinkled in front of blackboard. After various amusing bang-crackle-pop noises realises what's going on, wipes floor and bottom of shoes with dampened blackboard eraser -- you know, those ones with a strip of padded fabric in a wooden handle. By the next lesson (different chemistry teacher) eraser has dried out, said teacher has habit of banging eraser on board to attract attention...

      3. Stuart Castle Silver badge

        Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

        We had the IDE zip drives available on nearly every PC for students. Over 200. After a couple of years, we were starting to get reliability issues with a few of them. That, combined with earlier experiences of the click of death (although I don't believe this actually happened to the IDE zip drives, merely the externals), and the fact that our sales of the disks had really tailed of (we had actually sold less than 5 in previous year, down from about 10 a month) persuaded me to ask the Lab manager if maybe we should just remove all the drives, and keep a couple of externals just in case students needed them.

        He, unfortunately for me, loved the idea. Why unfortunately for me? I was one of his staff and so got given the task of removing and disposing of 60 of the bloody things. I came with the idea, but hadn't thought the practicalities through..

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

      I had a Zip drive, well, 2, an IDE one in my home PC and a parallel port one at work...

      Our OLAP database took around 8 hours to re-calculate on the client's server... Copying the export to disk, driving home, calculating it on my home PC, exporting the complete hypercube and driving back to work and reloading it on the server only took 4 hours (with an hour's drive each way).

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

        We students used Zip drives at university, and I even got one in my home pc. The university computers had Windows 2000 which had an interesting bug: it would rewrite a zip disc with the contents of the previous Zip disc to be inserted in that machine. Grr.

    3. Chloe Cresswell

      Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

      We had a client which printed balloons. High carbon content ink dust and AT format PCs.

      Got a call one day that there were flames coming out of the PC under the desk, and what to do.

      "Can you reach the power socket on the wall above your desk?" "yes" "turn it off and get the hell out of there!"

      (my back up plan was "get out of there and turn the isolator on the outside of the portacabin office")

      When we got the machine to look at, the PSU was toast, but everything else worked with a new PSU, so we assumed it was the carbon ink dust that ignited for some reason, but it still ranks as the weirdest call I've had.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

        I had one PC, no fire, but network didn't work, then the power went...

        When I investigated, the PC was in the sulfuric acid store and the fumes had eaten away at the network port and major parts of the PSU. There was rust all over the case and parts of the motherboard also didn't look too healthy.

        The problem was, the network connection had become intermittent some time earlier, so they had stopped saving their files on the server and they were stored just on the local PC... The case was a lot thinner than it should have been in places and some of the edge connectors for the IDE port were corroded as well.

        Somehow I managed to clean up the connectors enough to get a clean signal and dumped the contents of the drive onto a new disk.

        Edit: And as to exiting via windows, one guy was working late one night and the last one out set the alarm... The penultimate employee to leave the building didn't check thoroughly and thought he was the last and set the alarm... A few minutes later the last employee moved a bit too much at his desk and set off the motion sensor. Panic ensued and he leapt out of the window... Which was 3M above the ground and managed to break his femur.

    4. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

      Ahhh, Zip drives.

      I had to toss mine as it was useless what with today's fat files.

      Sad to see it go, was a great little helper with storage.

      And no, I did not get the dreaded click of death.

      1. paulf

        Re: I recall even my mum (a bit like Dilmom) telling me a fire story

        I had happy memories of a ZIP drive - it was my backup solution of the day (1997) and it was quite a substantial upgrade from the Floppy disc backup I was using! I had a parallel port one at first for my 486 laptop then moved to an IDE one when I got a desktop. Thankfully no click of death or any other problems - I wasn't so lucky with a later purchase of an Iomega REV drive which was a POS. I do wonder if the IDE one will still work as I found it in an old computer box along with a load of 100MB disks. It's crazy to think it'll barely hold an MP3 album now.

        [For those clamouring to know, my next backup solution was a HP 2.5GB Colorado tape drive. HP support was reasonably good back then happily swapping out two tapes that failed]

  4. Evil Auditor


    Having had worked in help desk myself I have great sympathy for helldesk staff. It comes to a limit though when a guy half across the globe remote controls my computer for five hours straight without solving the problem. Only after these five hours and resetting all my custom settings in MS Office/Outlook he could be convinced to relay to someone who could solve it.

    Maybe it was karma biting back... Then again, a colleague of mine got it worse: one day and a half -a total of twelve hours- of not being able to work because one of those helldesk drones tried to solve an issue.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: Karma?

      I got transferred to another department in the UK & put on hold at 7.30pm until 8pm when they went all went home.

      I had two lines, helldesk was a freephone number & I left it off the hook all night in my home office.

      I certainly made sure to comment on that the following night when calls were recorded for quality assurance purposes.

  5. GlenP Silver badge

    Occasionally had smoke coming from devices (generally monitors and terminals) but I've usually caught them before there have been actual flames.

    Not strictly IT but I was making coffee when the kettle lead caught fire. Probably a good job it was me as all I did was turn the power off then open the window for the smoke to clear. It turned out the cheap kettle had a standard C14 socket instead of the high temperature C16 notched version and a standard cable had been used instead of the original. I suspect if some others had been faced with that we'd have had a panic!

  6. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Was on duty at a toll road plaza yonkers ago. It was winter, and every toll collector has his/her aircondtioner's heater on in the toll booths.

    Supervisor get a panicked call from one toll collector - apparently a fire has started in her AC unit. Strangely nobody acted to extinguish that fire.

    I relocated myself swiftly from the control room to the toll booth in question, grabbed the fire extinguisher, located the flames (luckily it was still small) and proceeded to empty the extinguisher on it :) Was fun.

    When the AC repair crew rocked up, we found that the culprit was a bad connection to the heater element that overheated and caught fire.

    Fun days.

    1. Nick Kew


      That kind of story no doubt stems from the idea that whatever equipment you buy, if you tamper with it you invalidate the warranty. Which is probably at least a disciplinary offence in a workplace.

      So "do not tamper" becomes an instinctive reaction, and hard to override.

  7. Fading

    Magic blue smoke...

    Has escaped a few times but never an actual fire (touch wood) . It is amazing how animals have instincts to cope with this kind of event (where's a rhino when you need one) but a human calls the help desk.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Magic blue smoke...

      Again, not IT related, but we had an engineer working on the Asteroids machine in the JCR bar at Uni. (back when Asteroids was actually current).

      He decided to replace the huge main electrolytic smoothing capacitor in the power supply.

      He got it the wrong way round (quite a feat of carelessness, but not impossible)

      One hell of a bang, and a lot of smoke!

      I can't remember whether that machine ever worked properly again.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Magic blue smoke...

        Did you ever notice that when there was a loud "boom" or flames and smoke that unlike everyone else in the building running for the exits that engineers run towards the "boom"?

        1. Red Wolf

          Re: Magic blue smoke...

          Ah, human behaviour... I recently learned that when your area gets the mass text/robocall from the fire department informing you that it's too late to evacuate and that you should seek shelter immediately, most of my neighbours will interpret this as:

          a) drive closer to the leading edge of the fire, or

          b) clamber onto the roof and take photos.

          My neighbours are all idiots. And I have some spectacular photos of a bushfire that took out 3,800 acres.

      2. rototype

        Re: Magic blue smoke...

        Reminds me of an incident that happened one time we were having the warehouse extended at work. Apparently the plans showed the electrical feed at one end of the warehouse and the water at the other - they weren't, they were both in the same trench that just happened to be where the JCB was digging (thinking he was well clear of both).

        Here's the IT angle - the digger bucket hit the pipe and cable at the same time and caused some sparks (OK - it took out the whole power feed to that end of the building, sending massive spikes up the earth line) . The first we knew about it was our screens wobbling a bit - went to have a look at the big main server (HP D series Unix box) and as I walked in the room there was a HOOJ explosion as the UPS just shat itself (managed about 30 seconds before it did so pretty good). Managed to protect the main server as well and the only problems were from a couple of incorrectly closed files from the sudden power outage and a new pair of trousers required as I was the one to go in to see what the trouble was just before it went bang.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Magic blue smoke...

          I had a similar situation when lightning struck the "wrong" side of the line circuit breakers at a transformer located outside the building. It got a little cloudy and looked like it was going to storm...

          FLASH! BANG! The power goes out instantly as a coworker screamed!

          The strike took out the mains coming in to the building and completely blew the kilowatt meter off the wall. The power room, where the mains come in, was completely charred. Amazingly the UPSs survived in the computer room, however, those PCs located throughout the office suffered many smaller ills later, which were attributed to the spike.

          In another office the building was struck by lightning, being the tallest structure in the office park that is located on top of a hill. The strike took out all the PCs, network ports, and switches on one end of the building. I'm glad I wasn't responsible for IT infrastructure at the time and I let the goons from corporate come into replace everything. :-) They were the ones who worked for the big helpless desk and came over and said "Yup it's broken" and left us stranded for 5 days with a dead server once. That helpless desk and that company are no longer in business, we wonder why.

          Lightning can definitely be nasty and so can various power spikes and surges. I had a UPS blow its fuse out of its self between my legs once due to the power company, yes our dear friend National Grid, farting around with something on the pole outside my house. The spike took out my neighbor's microwave and blew her TV up. In our house, which doubled as a graphics-related business, it blew up the UPS the typesetting machine was connected to and also hurt the system, causing about $2,000 in damages for which we had to put in an insurance claim for.

          In my old days as a hardware technician, I would get boards in from the field for repair. One was sent in after it was hit by lightning. The serial ports and all the surrounding circuitry were completely burned off the board. All that was left was a carbon blob. The customer seriously wanted us to repair the board, and was quite devastated when we told them the bad news!

      3. WorsleyNick

        Re: Magic blue smoke...

        "He decided to replace the huge main electrolytic smoothing capacitor in the power supply.

        He got it the wrong way round (quite a feat of carelessness, but not impossible)"

        After retirement I did a level 2 PC maintenance course. One of my fellow students had a certain, how can I put this, lack special awareness perhaps. The student managed to rebuild a PC with the RAM reversed, back to front. How it is possible to do that we could not work out. not just a feat of carelessness, requires a large measure of cack-handedness.

        A strong smell of overheated PCB pervaded the room, before a fuse blewn the PS.

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: Magic blue smoke...

      My father got chased by a rhino in a land rover while doing his national service in Kenya, I forget who was actually driving, it might have been him or his CO, it certainly wasn't the rhino.

  8. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

    Not IT related, but I was out on the town a few months ago and came across a smallish fire (say 8" diameter, 18" high)

    Some plonker had chucked a lit cigarette into a dry plant pot.

    My friends were all "OMG there's a fire. Call the fire brigade!"

    I calmly walked over to it and smothered it. I stunk of smoke and had soot all over my hands, but the fire was out.

    I was amazed that everyone else's reaction was to panic and/or make it someone else's problem (and a much bigger problem by the time they arrive) rather than do something about it.

    1. jaywin

      Reminds me of the last actual fire when I've been working. Member of staff ended up with a disciplinary for ignoring the fire policy (evacuate the building (>500 drunk students), call the fire brigade, go and run through the signing in book in the car park while the building burns) when they decided to pick the rubbish bin up and take it less than 5m to a fire exit leading directly outside.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Personally, if faced with a disciplinary my response would be to politely inform the officious git ultimately responsible that should disiplinary proceedings beyond an investigation take place then I would consider exercising my rights to forward the result to one or more of the following:-

        1) The insurance company for them to take into account when reconsidering the cost of the legally required public liability insurance, as staff being forbidden to take reasonable action to prevent fires dramatically increases the risk to the insurer, and thus the cost to the organisation.

        2) That a copy would be going to the Ministers responsible for fire protection (and education) with a covering letter via my MP. The response would no doubt be interesting.

        3) The nuclear option; the media. The Daily Mail exists pretty much for the sole purpose of moral outrage and would doubtlessly have a field day with that (hero prevents fire at school, gets diciplinary)

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          Prohibited from using extinguisher

          At my current employer, but at a previous location, a select few employees were given "fire extinguisher training". The rest of us were told that under no circumstances, were we allowed to use the extinguishers, since we had not been properly trained. We should, instead, contact an authorised employee.

          Words failed me. I'm an EE, we occasionally work with high power stuff, and had an extinguisher in the lab. Should the need arise, I told my boss, I would use the extinguisher, pull the alarm and deal with any administrative consequences at a later time. He, to his credit, agreed.

          // Dear Sir/Madam: FIRE!

          // appropriate icon at last

          1. Chris 15

            Re: Prohibited from using extinguisher

            I Don't want to minimise your expertise in various fields, but, in the words of the Sussex Fire Brigade chief (at that time), how do you know if it is safe for you to attempt to tackle the fire? In his rather expert view it is not reasonable to expect people with zero actual fire training to know whether a given fire is of a magnitude for you to to know whether you should attempt to extinguish it. Fires can get alot more dangerous very fast, and that's before we get to talk about combustion gasses.

            Just something to bear in mind :)

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Prohibited from using extinguisher

              By the same argument how do the Sussex Fire Brigade know its safe for them to attend the fire until AWE and Porton Down have confirmed that it isn't a nuclear, biological or chemical attack?

              They shouldn't deal with any waste paper bin fire until it has been confirmed that it isn't a hidden thermonuclear warhead

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Prohibited from using extinguisher

              I Don't want to minimise your expertise in various fields, but, in the words of the Sussex Fire Brigade chief (at that time), how do you know if it is safe for you to attempt to tackle the fire?

              A 2KG CO2 extinguisher discharges for 8 seconds, with a 5KG one lasting something like 20 seconds. The big foam extinguishers last under 30 seconds and the big heavy water extinguishers usually used to prop doors open with last "up to" a minute.

              Knowing that, you can apply a reasonable rule of thumb to answering "can this fire reasonably be tackled safely with portable fire extinguishing equipment".

              Single server in flames from burning dust? Yes, empty a CO2 extinguisher into it.

              The fire above has spread to other servers in a rack? Sort of depends, but very situational. I'd probably give it a go if it was the server below and ablve if it looked reasonable (ie; without clouds of choking smoke if I had several people and a lot of (CO2) extinguishers handy) but if after having the extinguishers to hand the fire is not out then i'd leave it and get myself and others out. You can replace equipment more easily and cheaply than people (including yourself!) after all!

              Entire/multiple racks ablaze? GTFO. Don't even try.

              Paper basket on fire? Yes.

              Fire covering maybe a square meter on the legally mandated fire resistant carpet? Empty any readily available and appropriate fire extinguisher on it. If it's reduced to small burning and smouldering bits that you missed, continue to tackle with available equipment without endangering anybody, especially yourself. If it's spreading and not controllable, leave it for the boys in blue.

              Entire room in a blazing inferno? That's not realistically controllable with any sane number of 20-30 second fire extinguishers, is it?

              Choking clouds of smoke coming from the direction of a suspected fire that would make breathing difficult? Don't even go near it to look and leave it to people with breathing kit.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >Member of staff ended up with a disciplinary for ignoring the fire policy

        Our fire policy starts with "if safe and practical, tackle the fire with the extinguishers available"..

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          Fire Drill - Slaughterhouse Blues

          Fire alarm goes off, mass evacuation by the plant employees (I can't speak for the cows).

          I got a small bollocking for going to my car after roll call (It was -something), but not the worst offender was a supervisor, who they found fast asleep on the top (& in the middle of a pile of flattened cardboard boxes (Typical "I'm Allright Jack!", with a lit ciggie beside him.

          He was terminated on the spot with extreme prejudice, not by the method usually applied to the cows though.

        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Our fire policy starts with "if safe and practical, tackle the fire with the extinguishers available"..

          As it should. And everyone should have a basic level of training including that. And using extinguishers ( there are so many types according to type of fire and they keep changing the labelling rules). Also the reminder not to get the fire between you and the exit.(Which is common sense, but as has often been noted, common sense isn't all that common).

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            "Also the reminder not to get the fire between you and the exit."

            We shared a greenhouse building with a company whose support number for some reason, occasionally got bomb threats phoned through. That mean both businesses had to evacuate the building on an alarm. Our procedure was laid down as leave by the nearest door and if that was at the back of the building walk round the end of the building to the muster area at the front. I had to make it abundantly clear that however likely it was that the call was a hoax I was not going to walk past the glass wall of a building that was alleged to contain a bomb nor should anyone else.

            1. Yes Me Silver badge

              Must muster faster

              "leave by the nearest door and if that was at the back of the building walk round the end of the building to the muster area"

              One place I worked, the rules specifically instructed us not to evacuate by walking between the buildings to the muster area. We were told to leave the site, walk (don't run) round the block (at least half a km stroll) to reach the muster area at the other end of the car park.

              It even made sense. Especially the day that the evacuation test included an actual, intentional, burning car, to the enormous delight of everybody including the local volunteer fire brigade.

            2. ridley

              I can never understand our Schools evacuation procedure.

              1) If it is a fire alarm leave everything where it is and exit via the nearest exit etc, all very sensible.

              2) If it is a bomb alarm TAKE ALL YOUR BAGS WITH YOU exit and gather together at the muster station. WTF

              I have questioned the sense in this but have been told something along the line of it would take too long checking all the bags in a school.


              My flabber is ghasted.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I've done similar - but since I was walking back from the local coffee shop I just emptied my coffee on it and stirred the coals.

    3. el_oscuro

      When I was about 12, a small fire started under our Christmas tree, which was real. Without thinking about it, I used a fire extinguisher to put it out quickly. Good thing we had that extinguisher as those Christmas trees light up like gasoline and would have burned our house down before the fire department could have even got there.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Our on-site support team leader was a pipe smoker. On a bright summer's day he didn't realise his match wasn't completely extinguished when he dropped it in his metal waste paper bin. Most of its contents were plastic coffee cups. Flames quickly rose up.

    I nipped into the corridor and grabbed a fire extinguisher - which were all of the "electrical" pure CO2 gas type. We had had a fire training course the previous week - so I remembered to remove the safety pin - then got close and discharged the gas at the burning material.

    Unlike our training with a petrol fire*** the bin's contents were then propelled several feet into the air. The blast extinguished the fire - but there was then a drizzle of black sticky smuts over every flat surface.

    ***The fire brigade course had used petrol in an iron tray in our car park. After a few people had had their go with an extinguisher the tray was extremely hot. The petrol would immediately re-ignite because we weren't using CO2 powder types to smother it.

  10. Lee D Silver badge

    I work school IT.

    I was in a primary school once and got a call.

    "What should we do if the printer is smoking?"

    Although alarm bells did go off (in my head at least), there are certain classrooms where the printer is in front of a bright window in the morning, and the heat-vapour from the warm-up, plus the evaporated water from damp paper makes it look like wispy clear/white smoke is coming from them. The printers actually came with a manufacturer's sticker saying that it was normal and expected.

    "What colour is the smoke?" I ask.

    "It's like... black and smells of fire."

    "Er... I think your printer is on fire, could you unplug it immediately?"

    "Well, I'm waiting for my job to come out still."

    Turned out, when I literally RAN to the classroom after a few seconds of "UNPLUG IT!" down the phone, that it was actually on fire. There was a heated roller at the top of the printer near the paper exit. When the paper exit was blocked, the paper would curve back on itself, re-enter that roller underneath and form an infinite paper loop of doom.

    The printer was unable to detect that condition, and so would keep printing, wrapping more and more and more paper around the mummified roller, and keep heating. By the time I got there, there was a centimetre-thick layer of black, charred and quite obviously smoking paper wrapped in a perfect, compressed roll (almost ashen in texture when we later extracted it).

    I hate to think what would have happened if someone hadn't been watching. Not least because the REASON the printer managed to wrap the paper in the first place was a huge stack of papers and books on the top of the printer blocking the exit path. And the reason the roller got hotter and hotter was that either side of the printer were... huge stacks of papers and books literally suffocating the side and rear vents.

    We changed those printers, but not before HUGE warnings about not blocking the vents and exits like an idiot.

    The only equipment I've ever seen actually catch fire, though, was a 10-year-old PC in a learning support department that... well... basically just decided to go up in flames for no reason whatsoever. The PSU just went pop, lit up and flames came out the back. The PC was so old that I didn't even try to diagnose the black charred mess, though, and binned the whole thing immediately. Again, just lucky people saw as the power didn't stop and the flames would have just caught other things if it had been allowed to continue.

    I've also had Ni-Cd/NiMH battery chargers in a classroom (left overnight with two 9V batteries in them) go bang and spray acid over the entire carpet area where children normally sit in the mornings. Fortunately, it happened during a break time. The school banned all classroom charging after that.

    Apart from the first story, though, there was literally no warning or anything we could have done to prevent it, everything was PAT-tested or in good condition and there was no indication of impending failure of the PSU/battery or anything else, and it was just sheer luck that saved us.

    There are more than a few reasons that you need to be able to evacuate (herd) 500 children out the door in under two minutes, however, and practice it regularly. If you've ever seen a good fire evacuation in a school they are astoundingly impressive given the clientele being managed (e.g. two people gathering 20+ nursery-age children in seconds).

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      clientele being managed (e.g. two people gathering 20+ nursery-age children in seconds).

      At that age they are used to just doing what an adult tells them, unlike supposed aduts who argue, or want to go back for their phone.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Yeah, right.

        Have you tried getting a toddler that's not your own away from the sandpit?

        I agree in principle. In real life, especially with other people's children (whether spoiled-brat from private school, or ignored-hooligan from state school), it just doesn't work like that.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan

          toddler that's not your own away from the sandpit?

          Fortunately (for all concerned) we don't have, and never have had and likely never will, any of those (either toddler or sandpit). If we did, I'd make every effort to keep him/her away from sandpits because I know exactly how cats use sandpits and even sieving out the solids isn't going to make them safe..

          (Most schools are going to be near houses that have cats that go outside. And, unless you keep plentiful supplies of spare, clean sand and inspect, clean and refresh the sandpit before use, it *is* going to have been used by cats. And any other local mammals that operate similar elimation standards and methods).

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Sand Pit Woes 4 CrazyOldCatMan

            So, you never heard of building a sandpit with a lid?


            Recommended purchase: the Step 2 Crabbie Sandbox.

            Had one for best part of a decade. Weighed lid with a housebrick. Cat-free the entire time. Eventually it succombed to a decade outside in New York weather. UV did for the plastic.

            Crabbie Sandbox is the best use of kid play $$ I ever made. Just add sand and crabby kid.

        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Lee D Well said

    2. CrazyOldCatMan

      "What should we do if the printer is smoking?"

      We[1] have a Morris Minor car - converted to negative earth and with an alternator fitted. At one point, the petrol pump failed (they last, on average, about 10 years).

      So, being a good husband, I located, ordered and was delivered, a new one. That weekend, I took off the old one and fitted the new one - not a difficult job since the pump is easily accessible on the back bulkhead of the large-and-fairly-empty[2] engine compartment - although you do have to make sure that you don't let the petrol pipes drop to the floor since all the petrol in the tank then syphons itself out under the car..

      New petrol pump duly fitted, petrol pipes reconnected (the right way round) and all the wires mostly done up firmly, I asked my wife to fire up the car to check the new pump was working. After a few seconds, I heard the pump ticking away, thus proving it was working. Then my wife stuck her head out of the side windows and asked me whether smoke should be coming out from under the dashboard..

      One hurried turn-off later, I discover that Morris Minors are *very* sensitive to how well the earthing is done and that not doing up the earth connection tightly enough will draw enough current to make the old rubber-and-fabric-covered wiring get hot enough to smoke..

      We cleaned the wiring up, applied liberal amounts of insulating tape and duct tape where appropriate and that petrol pump is still resident, ticking away and delivering go-juice to the mighty 1098cc A-series engine[2].

      [1] Nominally "we". In practice, "my wife has".. I drive a car with modern luxuries like power steering and proper braking. And a working heater..

      [2] Which has now done well over 115K miles. And has an in-line fuel catalyst module that uses tin as an anti-knock agent. It's entirely appropriate for someone who had an ancestor that was the captain of a Cornish tin mine now drives a car partly powered by tin..

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Moggie Minor 4CrazyOldCatMan

        Tin anti-knock?

        Presumably the first trip after the improvised wiring harness bodge repair involved a tight grip on the steering wheal.

      2. 45RPM Silver badge


        Speaking as the driver of a car which is now comfortably in excess of 50 years old (but which has, never the less, very modern performance, a heater, electric variable speed wipers and so forth) I think I’d rather have your wife’s car. It has character, and I sincerely doubt that your modern car has the durability to outlast the moggie - whatever other benefits it might bring to the table.

        I have a modern car too. With only 2 seats, and dubious fuel economy, the classic isn’t sensible family transport. But the modern car is so boring to drive, entirely lacking in glamour, a soulless experience which fails to turn heads - not even that of its driver. And plenty of toys and gadgets and driver safety aids do not equal a ’drivers car’

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge


          So working at a aircraft servicing company after leaving school........ Christmas day packup doing catching up with the regular tasks like firing up the parked aircraft engines as this was well overdue.

          Young apprentice saunters up to stores, got a fire extinguisher for the Beechcraft?

          Me: Yes got a requisition form?

          His boss runs up......wheres the extinguisher?

          Need you to sign it Bill as Nick doesn't have the authority.

          OFFS says Bill

          Someone else runs up wheres that f**king fire extinguisher the Beech's engine is still in flames.

          Until that point nobody had thought to mention what\why they needed it for, I was under the assumption from the initial request it was a replenishment of the planes equipment.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "We[1] have a Morris Minor car"

        We had an MGB back in the days when it wasn't classic, not really old, just very second hand. It was prone to the occasional pre-detonation until the time when, for some reason, I had my FiL as passenger and the pre-detonation resulted in smoke from under the bonnet. The backfire had set the air-filter on a carb. on fire. Time to replace the exhaust valves and get the seats re-cut.

      4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        "What should we do if the printer is smoking?"

        grep dmesg for "lp0 on fire" to confirm printer is actually on fire

      5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "the mighty 1098cc A-series engine[2]."

        As a young child I well remember family holidays in the Moggie 1000. Two adults, three kids, boot stuffed to the gunnels and two or more suitcases strapped to the roof rack. Except on a steep hill where it was one adult + luggage while the rest of us got out to reduce the weight and walked up the hill.

    3. DanceMan

      "What should we do if the printer is smoking?"

      It's okay. It's old enough.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "What should we do if the printer is smoking?"

        I must admit my first mental image was an old geezer in and oily/inky boiler-suit and flat cap having a tab on the sly.

  11. M E H


    I was working on a helldesk for a major teaching & research hospital in London circa 2005.

    I received a call from a researcher who had all their research on their PC and wanted to back it up to Zip drive or similar. Great idea. Trouble was that their PC (unsupported by the Outsourcer I was working for) was running Windows 95. They had some USB ports but Windows 95 wouldn't support them and they couldn't buy a Zip drive with a parallel cable any more. Could we help?

    Contractually we couldn't help at all and if they had come through to anybody else on the helldesk they wouldn't have had any luck however they came through to me and I had 1) a pragmatic attitude, 2) a legal Windows 98 upgrade CD. I closed the ticket and sent the disk to them in the internal post with instructions to do an upgrade without overwriting the disk data and the usual caveats.

    A week or so later I got the CD back with a little note about how the upgrade had gone perfectly and thanks for the help.

    Not sure why I'm writing this except to show an example of a helldesk drone going above and beyond in the call of duty, and because I'm putting off my mornings task of rewriting ISO 27001 documentation.

  12. adam payne

    I was sat at my desk one day looking at a couple of PCs trying to figure out why they had been sent back to IT as they had no note with them (don't get me started on that). It was too early in the morning for my crystal ball to work.

    A panicked HR lady runs in and shouts 'the fax machine is on fire what do I do?' and in unison the whole IT department shouts back 'turn it off at the plug!'.

    She runs off back to the fax machine that is supposedly in flames, while we all draw straws as to which one of us gets to deal with this. I lost, damn it. I ran round and the fax machine is smoking a little but there's no signs of any flames or burn marks on the plastic case but there is a strong smell of coffee. Sure enough on opening up said fax machine there was coffee in it.

    Obviously no one owned up for the damage so we charged the new fax machine to the site cost code, that way each department on site paid towards it.

    1. Evil Auditor

      The coffee, obviously, was to extinguish the fire.

    2. GlenP Silver badge

      A "friend"* once managed to tip half a cup of coffee into a CRT monitor. Fortunately it was unsweetened and worked perfectly the next day after it dried out.

      *I'm not admitting anything!

      1. CrazyOldCatMan

        tip half a cup of coffee into a CRT monitor

        At one site, we had a rack in a nice warm place for drying keyboards that had had various beverages spilt on them. And several set of rubber gloves for using when washing said keyboards.

        As long as you washed them before said beverage had dried (especially if containing sugar) then they worked fine afterwards - as long as they had plenty of time to dry.

        This was in the days of proper keyboards when replacements were a non-trivial cost.

      2. KroSha

        SWMBO did the same with a CRT iMac G3. It still works today!

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          SWMBO or the iMac?

      3. Trilkhai

        "half a cup of coffee into a CRT monitor. "

        Back in university, I had a CRT monitor that allowed me to crank the refresh rate up over 130 Hz (provided I didn't mind turning it into a portable heater)...that is, until I knocked over a 12-ounce cup of lemon-lime soda that I'd stupidly placed on the desk hutch right above it. The monitor instantly released a massive whoosh of steam, but when I cautiously opened it up an hour or two later, it was completely dry, and the next day worked fine aside from losing the ability to have a refresh rate over 120 Hz.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          worked fine aside from losing the ability to have a refresh rate over 120 Hz

          That's because you didn't spill RedBull on it !

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    pcs.. no...

    Microwaves though... our office managed to immolate two of them in the course of a year...

    The first was with kippers (because you hate everyone) wrapped in foil.... (really? No one ever told you that was a bad thing?)

    Another was spring rolls (who knew they were volatile?) In which a member of staff noticed the burning rolls... and wandered off to tell a manager leaving it running with an ever increasing flame.

    Small office it's inconvient but when its a building with around 500 people in..... it's really inconvient.

    Anon. Natch (but I'm pretty sure my fellow workers have figured it out by now)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: pcs.. no...

      >Microwaves though... our office managed to immolate two of them in the course of a year...

      Long time ago now, but a college triggered a fire alarm by sticking a potato in a microwave for 20+ minutes and wandering off. Everybody evacuated, the fire brigade came out and the colleague in question was even more unpopular than before.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: pcs.. no...

        "Long time ago now, but a college triggered a fire alarm by sticking a potato in a microwave for 20+ minutes and wandering off."

        Sweet mother of mog, what a pillock.

        I used to work for a credit union, and one of their branch offices had the drive through lanes and tellers in a separate building from the main building. They were linked by a large pneumatic tube, and things worked out normally- until one of the tellers in the drive thru building burnt popcorn. the smell propagated all the way to the main building, and that's when popcorn got banned at that place. :)

        About the worst fire incident I've ever witnessed was when I accidentally immolated a wall switch that was in a small closet that used to hold the house's gas heater by toggling it's breaker too many times. Got a face full of ABC dry chemical as I put the fire out for my trouble, which was followed about ten seconds later by the fire department rolling up. (the other person in the house called the fire department, which was just down the street.)

    2. Trilkhai

      Re: Microwaves

      Back when I was in the hospital for long periods as a kid in the mid-80s, parents who stayed overnight were allowed to use the staff break-room microwaves, so my parents often waited until I was asleep, then made popcorn to share while they (and typically a few nurses) watched a popular hospital drama.

      One night, the show featured a fire at the fictional hospital that was so gripping that my father forgot to take the popcorn out...that is, until one of the nurses commented at the commercial break about 10 minutes later, "man, it seems so real I can practically smell the smoke!" As everyone nodded ("yeah, man, me too") in agreement, Dad took a very quick trip down the hall to find a charred lump in the scorched microwave. He quickly pushed it into the garbage can with a plastic fork and got the heck out of there before anyone could notice.

  14. Stoneshop Silver badge


    In Field Service we did stints screening customer calls (usually two weeks every three or four months), trying to narrow down the parts to have the assigned engineer take with him. A full CPU parts kit for an 11/780 or 8600 was rather voluminous, so you would try to keep it down to a subset. Same with tape drive and disk drive problems. After some troubleshooting you were supposed to send your analysis, plus the parts advice, to the branch office so that Logistics could collect the required parts and get them to the customer, while an engineer was assigned and sent.

    So one day a customer calls that one of his DECservers was on fire, and that he had already put it out but that he would like very much have it replaced with a working one. Fair enough, that's what service contracts are for.

    As a joke, I added "A bucket of sand" to the parts advice ("DSRVX-BA"), prompting a puzzled Logistics engineer to call me back and ask what the bucket of sand was meant for.

    "You don't put out electrical equipment fires with water."

    1. IanDs

      Re: Fire

      According to John D Clark in his fantastic book "Ignition", if you're unfortunate enough to be dealing with CTF (chlorine trifluoride or ClF3, a rather vigorous oxidiser -- or fluorinating agent, to be more accurate -- used occasionally in rockets by crazy people), sand won't be any good to put out a fire since CTF is perfectly capable of burning it -- along with metal, rock, asbestos, wood, test engineers...

  15. Chris G Silver badge

    Got sunshine

    About 5 years back one of my colleagues had his desk back to back with another, he was facing a window but sat in the shade of a huge 32" LG monitor that he used for graphics.

    One sunny day there was suddenly a lot of smoke coming up from the back of the 32", he shouted "bloody hell! It's on fire", the boss's girlfriend ran over and tipped a large glass of water all over the back of the screen effectively tripping all of the power in the room and terminating the screen along with a bit of unsaved work.

    It turned out there was a glass vase on the other desk that concentrated the sunlight and set a fabric sample smoldering.

  16. defiler

    You ever wonder?

    ...whether in 10 years time some poor bugger is going to submit an anecdote to this feature about accidentally making a total arse of a bank system migration?

    1. Lord Kipper III

      Re: You ever wonder?

      Why wait ten years. Come on, you know you want to...

    2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: You ever wonder?

      I think the story about a certain bank will come in under "Who, Me?"

      Not, not me. Or I'd be anonymous. Just speculating.

  17. Scott Pedigo

    I Caused A Small Fire In A VMEbus Rack

    I was working on a real-time military application where the hardware was a mix of proprietary and bought-in boards in a VMEbus rack. One of the vendors sent us a new model, and at some point I needed to update the firmware.

    I was accustomed to a 3-pin connector, let us call the pins a, b, and c, where there was a 2-pin sized jumper. If you put it on a-b, you had the normal 12-volt operation of the memory. If you moved it to b-c, you had 24-volts instead, which allowed you to reprogram the EEPROM.

    The new board had *two* sets of 3-pin connectors, for separately enabling the 12v and 24v power, where a given connector enabled or disabled the connection to that power. As usual, I moved the one connector to enable the 24v power, but not realizing there were now two connectors, I didn't disable the 12v power. I put the board back into the VMEbus rack, turned on the power, and there was a nice fireball which destroyed the board (about $2,200 at the time) and singed another board a few slots away. Luckily for me I had spaced the boards apart in the rack.

    1. Chairman of the Bored

      Re: I Caused A Small Fire In A VMEbus Rack

      One jumper -> two? Somebody got lazy with the PCB layout. Bug!

      1. CrazyOldCatMan

        Re: I Caused A Small Fire In A VMEbus Rack

        One jumper -> two? Somebody got lazy with the PCB layout

        There was probably some customer somewhere that demanded it. The failure is that existing customers were not informed (preferrably by release notes and a damn big sticker on the back by the port(s)..)

  18. Chairman of the Bored

    Nearly got fired...

    ...early on in my career I had to take a brand spanking new digital storage oscilloscope out to 'the field'. At this point the DSO was a new invention and cost more than my house, car, and possibly spouse.

    I went out to the trailer at the work site, plugged it in... And its power supply went up like a volcano. Took out the main CPU board, too.

    Turns out there were three problems: 1:the lazy fscking electrician who wired the trailer was asked to provide a circuit of split phase 240V couldn't be bothered to install an outlet with a NEMA L6 socket and just wired 240V to a standard 120V NMEA 5 socket. 2: the standard half bridge power supply architecture that can work on either 120 or 240V without a hard switch was not yet ubiquitous and sure as hell wasn't featured in my DSO. 3: I plugged it in

    I nearly got fired because I didn't take a meter to the outlet before plugging in the scope. W.T.F.! Who does? The whole point of a standard outlet is ... Standardization!

    1. The Real Tony Smith

      Re: Nearly got fired...

      Yup, me too

      As I lived half a mile from the calibration lab I was asked to pick up a DSO as it was going to be ready at about 10am. Had a lie in, drove round and picked it up (no paperwork or any sort of ID check!) then off to work with it sitting on the back seat of the Ford Fiesta.

      It was only then that I realised that not only was is worth wayyyyyyy more then the car was but possibly more than my house was....

      But we got the BT payphones designed ;-)

      1. Chairman of the Bored

        @The Real Tony Smith

        Satisfying to build the real hardware! Driving around everywhere with scopes, extremely expensive kit, or highly proprietary info in our cars ... good times. But what would we have done in a wreck? Somehow I don't think auto cover would cover anything, and suspect ones employer could develop amnesia about asking us to drive...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nearly got fired...

        We were having problems with an RF tester.

        They managed to get it working.

        The engineer returned with the potentially faulty instrument cards (3 off).

        He put them in his car boot.

        The cost is 100K per instrument card.

        Drive very carefully!

  19. Richard Pennington 1

    Not strictly IT, but ...

    Years ago, as a graduate student, I was "volunteered" to man the slide projector at an international conference on the evolution of stars (largely owing to the fact that my PhD supervisor was one of the conference organisers).

    Midway through one of the presentations, the slide projector decided to catch fire. I managed to eject all the slides (thereby saving the slide set) just before pulling the plug from the wall.

    The session MC did make a comment that I was upstaging the speaker!

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Re: Not strictly IT, but ...

      And did they like your practical demonstration of the star going supernova?

  20. Johnny Canuck

    Back in the late '90s I started playing with linux. I found out you could change your monitor settings by editing xorg.conf. I was pretty pleased when I got my 640x480 vga monitor to display 800x600. Guess what happens when you overdrive an old vga monitor.

    1. Chairman of the Bored

      Exploding VGA monitor

      A monitor smoked on wrong mode? Let me guess, it was a flat CRT ViewSonic?

  21. Chris King

    "Leap out and let it burn"

    If I can tackle a small fire properly, then I'll tackle it, otherwise I'm out of the building with everyone else.

    One time, I heard fire alarms in other parts of the building, but not nearby - and out of the window I could see thick, black plumes of smoke rising.

    Okay, that looks like we have a genuine fire on site and the alarms aren't working properly - Out ! Out !! OUT !!!

    Apparently, there was an alarm fault, and a power failure caused our ancient second-hand generator to kick in, hence the smoke - only three people headed to the emergency assembly point, while everyone else dashed to the machine room to check that their kit was still working.

    I've also seen people start backups or wait for a clean PC shutdown when the fire alarms alarms go off.

    One person even went to the tea room to make themselves a cuppa before evacuating, because they thought it was just a fire drill.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: "Leap out and let it burn"

      If you've ever done any fire safety course ever:

      The fire extinguishers are there for you to secure a safe exit.

      NOT for you to extinguish the fire.

      You can do. If you like. If your company lets you. If you take the risk upon yourself. If you think it's safe. If you accept that nobody's going to praise you for it.

      But the fire "extinguisher" is for you to escape with. Not put out the fire with.

      I question it every year, at many different employers, but that's the universal "we're not going to take the risk of telling you otherwise" answer.

      Yep, you see a fire, you're supposed to just get to a safe place. You can use the extinguishers to help you do that, but you should have been out of the building long before that's necessary.

      Given some of the (listed, 400+ year old, wood-panelled, with original fireplaces still in use) buildings I've worked in, I don't need to be told twice.

      Had a close incident with a MacBook battery that got wet and swelled to four times its normal size (destroying the MacBook in the process), which someone wanted to drop in a bucket of water, and that was enough to tell me that most people's first reaction to a fire is probably not sensible anyway. It's like the chip-pan fire safety videos from when I was a kid. I *still* see people do dumb things like pour water on hot fat.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How to get folks out of the office

    In my last job I was a fire warden and responsible for trying to get the office empty when the fire alarm went off.

    One morning the fire alarm goes off - most people are very good, quickly grab their coats and head out of the fire escapes.

    One guy in a side office doesn't move so I tell him to leave. He says NO. I ask him twice more, again he says NO. The policy is that we ask three times and if they refuse, get their name as they will then be formally disciplined, in theory up to and including termination. That was the theory; in practice nothing happened to people who didn't move.

    So when I asked for his name he said "Why do you want it?" I said "Because office fires are usually intense, leaving not enough of bodies to identify them even with DNA testing."

    He quickly got out.... and at the next safety officer's meeting I relayed what I'd said - and it became official policy :)

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: How to get folks out of the office

      At CERN (before they got the fancy biometrics) there was a mine tag system at the lift down to the tunnel.

      What are the brass tags for asked a visitor ?

      So that if there is a fire (in an underground narrow concrete tunnel full of nasty stuff) they know how many people the memorial is to.

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: How to get folks out of the office

      "One morning the fire alarm goes off - most people are very good, ****quickly grab their coats**** and head out of the fire escapes."

      You need to refresh your fire procedures.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: How to get folks out of the office

        You need to refresh your fire procedures.

        In case of fire, access the emergency response portal of the intranet web site

        Logon and read the fire procedure appropriate to your dept and clerical grade

        Click to state that you have read the fire procedure and so completed your fire procedure training

        Click to say that you accept that you have been fully trained and any death due to fire is entirely your own fault

        Head for the fire escapes (do not grab your coat)

  23. 45RPM Silver badge

    I once worked for a company which did computer support and repairs. This was many years ago - more than two decades ago, in fact. One day, a chap entered our office with a broken laptop and a good story.

    He’d been working in South America, I can’t remember exactly which country, with an organisation which looked after street children. He’d also been documenting his findings and taking pictures with a very primitive digital camera, the pictures being transferred to his laptop (where he also kept his diary).

    One day, he’d been trying to protect a group of children from the police, who thought that the correct way to deal with homeless kids was to shoot them. Actually, I imagine that they used that tactic on anyone without a home. The children and the aid workers were chased into a storm drain - and, in the panic and confusion, a bag containing the laptop with its precious pictures and diary got dropped.

    When the coast cleared, the man retrieved the laptop - now drenched, battered, and no longer functional - and, presently, returned to the UK.

    He brought the laptop to us, and the work was assigned to me. All he really wanted was his stories and pictures so that he could write up the report. I pulled the corroded mess of laptop apart and, unsurprisingly, discovered a hard disk that really wasn’t going to work anymore. At least, when I plugged it into the SCSI port of a different computer, it refused to be recognised.

    More in hope, rather than expectation, I tried changing the controller board with one from an identical hard drive - and, to my astonishment, the drive now spun up and I was able to recover (most of) the data.

    I’ve done charity work myself in the past, and I felt that I’d like to do more - so I pulled his laptop completely to pieces, cleaned all the plastics, and built a new one from spares. It all went wrong from there though because, um, I accidentally lost the receipts and invoices somehow. Still, at least he got charged for the data recovery (albeit less than £100 if I recall correctly), and he was very pleased to get his laptop back again, and working.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan

      I tried changing the controller board with one from an identical hard drive - and, to my astonishment, the drive now spun up

      Did that trick with an old full-height ESDI hard drive (a whopping 300MB - in the days when an 80MB hard drive was serious money). In fact, I'd managed to get two for virtually nothing since they were both dead (and from the description, one had a dead main board and the other had been dropped and rattled when shaken..)

      Even with the cost of a 2nd-hand ESDI controller, it was a cheap deal. The one with the dead motherboard had perfectly-working mechanicals and the other one had a working main board.

      Took a bit of fiddling with the jumpers on the main board though since the drives were slightly different sizes and geometries (and I'd chucked away the dead board without noting the jumper settings - and this was before the days of the world-wide-web so no online help lookups..).

      Got it working eventually and stuck Slackware on it. That machine ran for quite a number of years with me untill I got a new one and passed it off to someone else to use as a simple webserver. It was still running well into the 21st century until the bearings on the drive finally gave out. It was the noisiest, hottest hard drive I've ever used!

      1. The Real Tony Smith

        Jumpers...... no internet..... <sigh>... happy times :-)

        1. 45RPM Silver badge

          @The Real Tony Smith

          Well, we had the Internet. Just not the web. A world of gopher, ftp, usenet, janet and email. A world, off the Internet, of bulletin boards. A world without social media. A world, mostly, without GUIs. A world where the technologically unsavvy didn’t use computers.

          So yes. <sigh> Happy Times.

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Ah, the good old days! Jumpers for goalposts...

      2. Chris King

        "It was the noisiest, hottest hard drive I've ever used!"

        Micropolis, by any chance ? Their stuff always ran hot and loud.

    2. Sam Therapy

      Beers for life for this man!

  24. W4YBO


    I was jangled awake dark and early one spring morning by my bedside telephone. The main transmitter was off the air, the backup was on, and oh yeah, the smoke alarm at the transmitter site is alarming. Hour drive to the site, but the backup stayed on-air for the whole trip, so the building's probably not burning down. No flash fire when I opened the building door, so that's good.

    When I entered the transmitter building, my first thought was "bar-b-que!" That was the weirdest smelling melted transformer or vented capacitor I'd ever encountered. Smelled a hell of a lot better than a fried selenium rectifier stack.

    Start diagnosis with the power amplifier (4CX15000A tube) power supply, so I drop to my knees (aah, those were the days) in front of the PA rack, and begin unscrewing the panel screws. I moved the panel off to the side, and there he was; a two foot long copperhead! I stood up like a ninja!

    I didn't really need to worry. Cool night, warm 22 kilovolt transformer. He crawled on top of the transformer and bridged the output terminals. He wasn't going to move again without help. So I helped. Cleaned up the mess, ran fans to ventilate the building, and got the main back on-air. But I never did figure out where he got into the building.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Bar-B-Que

      I have a (ham) friend in the broadcast biz. His stories are always entertaining (and sometimes clench-inducing). *does* copperhead BBQ taste? (and what sauce dis you use?)


    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Tony Gathercole ...

    Tape Drive on fire

    Yes, I've seen a tape drive go up in smoke.

    Trouble was that it was a full cabinet 9-track, reel-to-reel TU77 or TU78 (DIGITAL Equipment OEM of a Pertec drive) which literally went "BANG!" and flames and smoke started pouring out of the back of the cabinet. This was back in the 1980s when infrastructure in computer rooms was somewhat less sophisticated than now. Despite this being one of the UK's largest manufacturing companies, conditions in that room were at the time hardly state-of-the-art and each device (CPU cabinet, disk/tape drive etc) in the computer room was wired to an individual isolation switch on the wall of the room - no such thing as a REPO or even very much in the way of fire detection in the room. And I was alone in the room at the time (although there were operators in the adjacent room).

    Actually, not much damage was done as I managed to throw the however many power switches there were to turn everything off and grab a reasonably appropriate fire extinguisher and had the fire under control before the on-site fire brigade (well, it was a major petrochemicals site on the banks of a large river in north-east England) arrived. I cannot remember if there was an active Halon (or similar) system but I don't think that it was used, or whether it was installed after this event.

    Investigations by DEC Field Service found that a large, power smoothing capacitor had exploded in the three-phase (?) power supply which was the root cause and the insulation on the cables had caught fire - hence the volumes of smoke.

    Shortly after this we started installing "proper" power distribution units and had one of the first VESDA systems in the UK installed. We also ended up getting some extensive fire training based on that provided across the production site.

    While management were happy that the incident was contained rapidly and damage limited (the computer room contained several DECSYSTEM-20 and VAX systems vital for various areas of the production site and the division's commercial operation), I ended up on (not in!) the carpet for exposing myself to unnecessary risk by tackling the incident rather than retreating to safety and waiting for the professionals.

    Funny thing is that much later in my working life I ended up as a risk manager for one of the international IT companies...

    (Icon based on content rather than being p....d off etc!)

  26. Dabooka Silver badge

    Like these On Calls though I do...

    It would be nice if we could step away from giving the punch line away in the teaser on the home page. It kind of ruins it reading whilst knowing what's coming.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    1. JulieM

      Re: Fire

      I'll see that and raise you this!

  28. Timmy B

    My job used to be going round the country sorting out unhappy customers. I learned that the best thing you can do is figure the problem, let them know the solution, give them realistic deadlines, warn them if those deadlines will slip. Basically be communicative, honest and dependable.

    I didn't really get rewards like in the original story, but I got a handshake and a literal pat on the back from one elderly curmudgeonly MD with a dinner wherever I wanted at the end of my last day on site.

    Sometimes it's the small things...

  29. Domquark

    Once upon a time

    On a helldesk far, far away...

    A techie took a call from a very upset person, complaining about the smoke that was coming from the PSU on his PC. The techie told him to pull the plug immediately, but the customer refused, stating that he was a Journalist and needed to finish the story he was working on. The techie repeated his advice a couple of times, but the customer just got more annoyed, eventually asking for the Manager. Our Office Manager was a techie himself, but didn't suffer fools gladly. After 10 mins of arguing, the Manager decided enough was enough. It was the heady days of Win 98, so he instructed the client to open a command prompt and type "Edit Autoexec.bat". "Scroll to the bottom and add this line: NoSmoke.exe. Reboot your PC - is it still smoking?". The customer confirmed that the PC was still smoking, so the Manager told him that he would have to call Microsoft.

    Half an hour later, the customer called back, asking for the Manager. "I've spoken to Microsoft." he said. "They told me that their version of NoSmoke.exe is not compatible with your power supply!"

  30. Archivist

    Just my luck

    It was 10pm on Xmas eve when I was called to a TV transmission suite and shown smoke blowing out of a computer rack in the bottom of a tape cart machine (a bit like a tape library but more primitive). Oh hell, my shift is meant to finish in an hour..

    I decided to leave it running as long as possible as it was on air.

    When the programme had finished and the tapes loaded elsewhere, I shut it down and stripped down the computer. It was a proprietary build by Sony (pre-PC) with loads of boards and a passive backplane.

    There was no sign of any burning or overheating on any part. So I took the only reasonable step and reassembled it. Powered up, surprisingly it worked fine, and no more smoke.

    I was off shift that Xmas but it was on my mind. By the time I returned to work I had already a good idea what had happened. I walked round the back and shone my torch into each of the rear fans. Sure enough one was not rotating but looked normal. On removing and dismantling it I discovered the internals were baked to a cinder. This is before fan control and speed monitoring of course.

  31. MrBanana Silver badge

    A computer on fire, you say?

    A few years back I was at a customer site helping to set up a nice new fangled Unix box to replace the IBM mainframe that was their current system. While working in the machine room we saw smoke coming from an IBM disk system - size of a washing machine, probably about 40Mb of data. We all evacuated and called the fire brigade. I was surprised to see that the first person to arrive on the scene was an IBM engineer, summoned by some automatic hardware failure alert. He was frantically trying to extract the removable disk pack when the firemen did turn up and forcefully pulled him away from the smouldering disk drive.

  32. GIRZiM

    I think I may have worked for Rick's employer

    It would've been my first job out of university, before I knew any better.

    Was the company bought by Softbank Services in the mid 1990s and then sold back to the original directors shortly afterwards?

  33. Luke Siemaszko

    First year of university engineering course. Electrical engineering practical. Using an oscilloscope to look at waveforms on three phase motor. Follow the instruction sheet, plug motor into mains, connect 'scope to motor. Turn on circuit breaker. Immediately, a sound of, "pzzzzzzzzzzsssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhht" followed by deathly silence as most of the oscilloscope internals are transmogrified into grey smoke that slowly and gracefully rises to the ceiling.

    After a departmental investigation it turns out that the vapourised 'scope was not my fault, as the lab tech who wrote the instructions forgot to include the words"....using an isolating transformer....."

    (one of the live connections to the motor was shorted to earth via the input of the 'scope)

    1. Chairman of the Bored

      @Lukes scope

      That must've been exciting! Power machines are unforgiving.

      Most "fun" I had in electrical machines lab was a lab partner who was supposed to pull the neutral coming off a motor/generator pair, pull through current transformer, and reconnect. Instead she pulled a phase line, at full load. L di/dt cannot be denied... It arced, she conducted, and then she launched off the floor like a moon rocket... Most graceful and energetic leap I've ever seen... Flew over motor/gen, smacked her head into the wall, and somehow came to rest without getting caught in the spinning bits. Survived but badly shaken. Come to think about it, I was pretty shaken, too.

      1. IanDs

        Re: @Lukes scope

        Heavy electrical lab at Cambridge. 3-phase AC motor-generator pair used for machine efficiency experiments, idea being that motor drew a couple of megawatts and generator returned a couple of megawatts minus a few tens of kilowatts back to mains -- each of these was about six feet long and four feet diameter in old money.

        "Wonder what happens if I reverse the field coil polarity on the generator?"

        <whump> lights go out in the engineering labs. Also the whole of west Cambridge...

        Bill (oldish famously grumpy but *very* experienced lab manager) comes running in screaming "Which one of you f**cking morons reversed the field coils on the MG set?"

        Not the first time this had happened was my guess...

  34. Inventor of the Marmite Laser


    Many years ago: It wasn't unknown for a 22uf, 63V electrolytic capacitor to find its way, wrong way round, across the 12V power supply rails in some of the printers and terminals we often had on test. They were too small to have a vent but big enough to make a very satisfying bang.

    Happy days.

    1. Chairman of the Bored

      Re: Capacitors

      @Marmite, excellent! You know and I know some of those reverse polarity events might not have been entirely accidental... 8}

  35. J. Cook Silver badge


    Things I've either seen in person, or dealt with the aftermath of:

    The print head from a 24 pin printer

    The aforementioned wall switch in a house

    No less than five instances of PSU blowouts- one caused by 220v on the neutral line, one from the 110/220 switch being set wrong.

    A 2 phase pool pump motor showing extreme displeasure with only getting a single phase (it popped and smoked)- the little bitty motor running the day on/off timer that turned said motor on and off simply stopped working entirely

    There's probably some others, but that's all I remember.

  36. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Old saying from long ago and probalby still applies

    When you let the smoke out of the component parts, you'll need to get new parts with fresh smoke in them. Seems just as true today as it was then.

  37. Chairman of the Bored

    Obligatory link to the Microwave Mortuary

    Sadly, one of my designs made it in here... Some fun stuff to look at:

  38. alysdexia

    Those things weren't nescient; Rick is. ""length of time", "try and": also a halfwit.

  39. fevs

    Tales of Tech Support

    I used to work for a once well-known and now dead computer company in sunny Lancashire, starting in the service centre with AMD K6-2 base units that weren't grounded properly and would thusly give you a nice tickle if you touched the back of the case...

    There were also two particular models that had a 'refurbished' motherboard in them (by way of a wire being soldered to the back of them) that would occasionally catch fire... but I digress.

    Having been 'promoted' to the call centre's 'Gold Support Team' (£1 per minute, call time max. 10 minutes - not including queue time) I regularly took calls from people who had various Windows crashing issues after having installed one of the bundled fragments of 'software' - having been referred by regular tech support as the issue was "not with Windows itself".

    I was regularly getting into hot water with the team leader for calling customers back once I determined these cases, as my conscience was a little more important to me than their bottom line. I would often hear of 'colleagues' sending out more CD's of rather rubbish software by way of an apology - cynicism would say securing future business.

    One day (while filling in a staff shortage on general tech support) I received a call from a rather nervous store rep, informing me that a customer who had been refused a refund had brought his purchase back to the store (a model 74 if I remember) and piled it up in the doorway. The disgruntled customer then poured some kind of fuel over it and torched the lot.

    I did feel bad for the poor fella, knowing what the 'refund' policy really was (or lack thereof) but I remember thinking out aloud that the customer could have saved himself the bother of torching it by simply plugging it in and allowing the motherboard mod to do the job for him...

  40. Simon Beckett

    Iomega Jazz

    We used a lot of these for a very short space of time. The name was appropriate: Never performed the same way twice, had a tendency to go off at a tangent, worthwhile for a short space of time, tolerable for a little longer, eventually makes you want to bang your head on the desk until you fall unconscious...

POST COMMENT House rules

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

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021