back to article Haunted disk-drive? This story will give you the chills...

Welcome once more to On Call, The Register’s regular foray into the freaky world of tech support. This time, we meet “Alexis”, who was called upon to help solve a mystery for a legal publishing company during a boozy lunch with its boss – something we can all get behind on a Friday. “During the early 1980s, I was dabbling in …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Put a heater in the safe then ?

    I really would have liked a bit more of the forensic details on this one. I think I would be amazed as to how the guy actually realized there was a consation problem.

    This story was worthy of a bit of the Columbo treatment - too bad it didn't get it.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

      How would you power the heater? Ancient safes generally don't have a power supply inside them, and people tend to not want to set fire to the things inside the safe.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

        We had a similar problem with 8" drives. We decided it was the drive, not disks. The horrid Apple II 5.25" floppies and drives not affected (early 1980s). We put an electric convection heater turned low in the room.

        Similarly forty PCs built (mid 1990s) in a cold warehouse didn't work on site till HDD reformatted and OS reinstalled. Solution was to keep HDD stock in the office and do final fitting and install there. Which suited me better. Could take off coat!

        1. Shred

          Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

          Ah yes... Apple ][ 5 1/4in drives.

          Woz had the genius idea of saving 5c on the cost of each drive by deleting the track zero sensor. To ensure that the heads were positioned at track 0 prior to boot up, the computer would smash the heads against the track 0 stop 39 times. That is the source of the awful “brraaaack!” sound characteristic of these drives at power on.

          This feature / abuse provided Apple service centres with a regular income stream; customers had to present their drives to have radial alignments performed at regular intervals.

          1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

            Re: Apple ][ drives (Was: Put a heater in the safe then ?)

            Woz had the genius idea of saving 5c on the cost of each drive by deleting the track zero sensor. ... the computer would smash the heads against the track 0 stop 39 times.

            Actually, no it didn't. I think you'll find it was only 10 times (only one of four steps on the stepper would be pushing against the stop), and it could have been less because (from memory) they ran the heads out first - so you'd hear the swish and potentially clicking as the needle skipped in the groove - before it ran back and made a few taps.

            And it wasn't the heads against the stop, it was a part of the carriage specifically arranged to engage with the head positioner scroll disk.

            This feature / abuse provided Apple service centres with a regular income stream; customers had to present their drives to have radial alignments performed at regular intervals.

            Really ? I never once had to have mine done, and I don't know anyone else who did.

            But that was really just a minor cost saving. What really saved a lot of money, and showed what a genious Woz was, was how he replaced a couple of VME boards full of chips with just 1/2 dozen chips and a state machine ROM - plus some software. I recall the size and complexity of the two VME boards that formed the controller for the external drives on our Intel MDS at work (not to mention the racket the 8" drives made with their head load solenoid) - and the simplicity of the Apple controller I had at home.

            And the creative way he found a better coding and was able to upgrade from (IIRC) 13 sectors/track to (IIRC) 16 s/t with nothing more than updated ROMs (replace P5 and P6 with P5a and P6a) with fresh code and a new state machine.

            Ah, this takes me back a bit. Oh those days when 48k (or if a showoff like me, 64k) was considered a lot of RAM and was enough to do useful work. Not to mention the hardware being simple, and slow, enough to easily build your own stuff from a few TTL chips.

          2. K

            Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

            @Shred - "This feature / abuse provided Apple service centres with a regular income stream ..."

            This must have formed the cornerstone for Apple's operating "Bible", its still an abuse that Apples practices to this very day (gluing in components, making devices impossibe to fix, going after non-authorised repairs shops).

            1. Trilkhai

              Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

              This must have formed the cornerstone for Apple's operating "Bible", its still an abuse that Apples practices to this very day (gluing in components, making devices impossibe to fix, going after non-authorised repairs shops).

              Nope... The Apple II family of computers were designed to be easily opened & highly user-servicable, and a wide range of third-party companies produced all kinds of expansion cards for users to cram into them; they were just like PCs in that respect. Apple didn't start locking down their hardware and or shutting down 'unauthorized' repair shops until around the time Jobs returned as a pseudo-mythological figurehead.

              1. Ian Moffatt 1

                Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

                Wasn't it the IIci that could be dis-assembled without even using tools? Everything just unclipped. excellent piece of kit to work on.

          3. Trilkhai

            Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

            That was never a problem with the four Apple II 5.25" drives that saw heavy use on my mother's & father's houses when I was growing up — my pair still work just fine. From what I have read since then, head drift can gradually occur over time on any floppy drive (esp. one moved around a lot), but will only become detectable when it reaches the point where it can't read disks written by other drives and vice-versa; it will go on reading disks it wrote to just fine.

    2. W4YBO

      Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

      Most contemporary safes have a 3/8 inch hole drilled into the lower right rear to pass a power cord through. My Heritage safe (6' x 3' x 2' interior) uses a 3 watt heater, and I've never had any condensation problems, even with a damp basement. The hole equalizes air pressure so you can open the door after barometric changes, too.

      1. HelpfulJohn Bronze badge

        Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

        Instant naughty thought: could that hole be used in conjunction with endoscopic tools to do laparoscopic manipulation of the lock's internals?

        Or am I about five centuries too late with that notion?

        1. Tom Chiverton 1

          Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

          Or just overpressure the safe and blow the bloody doors off

          1. fedoraman

            Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

            Fill it with a propane/air mixture of the right proportions, then insert an igniter. Kind of like the crude cashpoint-opening method.

            1. bobajob12

              Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

              You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!

    3. Unicornpiss Silver badge

      Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

      My question would be, why was it just the one PC acting up then? Didn't they put all the disks in teh safe? Or did the office only have one PC?

      1. Alien8n

        Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?


        "My question would be, why was it just the one PC acting up then? Didn't they put all the disks in teh safe? Or did the office only have one PC?"

        Judging by the description I'd say they only had one PC. Remember it wasn't really until the 90's that PCs came down enough in price that they became almost a commodity item, even in an office environment. My first PC cost me 4 grand back around 1995.

    4. Sherrie Ludwig

      Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

      Hobby shops sell a silicone desiccant, the same stuff that's in the "do not eat" packets in almost everything packaged overseas. Use until the problem starts to reoccur, then heat the desiccant (could put it on a radiator or floor vent) and it will drive off the moisture and you are good to go some more.

    5. Boork!

      Re: Put a heater in the safe then ?

      Maybe a heater was not necessary. The floppy disks could have been stored in padded envelopes to insulate them, which would prevent condensation, and the interior humidity of the safe could have been reduced with desiccation sachets.

  2. frank ly


    The condensation would form when they took the discs out of the cool safe and exposed them to a relatively warm and damp old office full of people breathing.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Actually

      There's an obvious answer here - P45s all round!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Actually

        Doesn't the P45 resolve most user issues, unfortunately push out enough and the techies get them too

      2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

        Re: Actually

        Why would the P45s be circular?

        Oh, you meant "around"...

        1. Solarflare

          Re: Actually

          He probably meant all 'round, if you want to be a really pedantic git.

        2. Korev Silver badge

          Re: Actually

          Why would the P45s be circular?

          Oh, you meant "around"...

          I meant in a similar way to Private Eye's "Trebles all round".

          Have a Pedantry Pint ->

      3. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Actually

        There's an obvious answer here

        I'm surprised you missed the most obvious one: stop them all from breathing out.

  3. TonyJ Silver badge

    Similar scenario with a line printer

    I once worked with a colleague who'd been repeatedly called out to solve issues with a line printer in the 80's.

    Said printer was in a an office in a small industrial unit. Most Monday mornings, the platen on the printer would have a nice sheen of condensation, causing the paper to slip.

    Despite repeatedly explaining that there was nothing they could do other than allow the condensation to disperse, he was there almost weekly.

    Until he explained to the girl there that it was down to the stale electricity from the weekend and they needed to wait an hour or two for it to pass through and have enough energy to drive the printer.

    No more calls.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Similar scenario with a line printer


      Line printers are usually tractor feed.

      (and the really high speed ones have fancy negative-ion static generators to neutralise the positive charge on the paper, so it keeps flowing smoothly...or the other way round)

      1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

        Static on paper

        It don't half give you a belt, does that.

        1. THMONSTER

          Re: Static on paper

          Two thirds of a belt as compared to the mighty three pinned belt you get today.

    2. defiler Silver badge

      Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

      We always used to have trouble with new paper jamming in the copiers at an old job. The paper was kept in an outdoor lockup, and (you've guessed it) was cold and damp when brought inside.

      Keeping a couple of boxes handy indoors sorted that problem - that gave the paper a chance to warm up and dry out so it wouldn't stick together.

      1. Hazmoid

        Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

        We had a similar problem with a copier that was located in a "lifestyle" office (located in a seaside town famous for wineries and surf, a couple of hours drive from head office. This allowed the directors the ability to have a long weekend at their beach "shack" and still do some work. Obviously this was in the days before ubiquitous mobile phones, wireless data services and remote access)

        The copier was set up by the local copier company originally ("local" being a 30 minute highway drive away) and we had not been on site to inspect. It constantly jammed and it was almost every second day that the support company had to visit ( and would change an hour travel time each time).

        When we did come in for other work ( rewiring the data switch ) we could tell what the problem was instantly. The printer was located directly below the outlet of a cassette air conditioner, and was constantly being blasted with cool damp air. This resulted in the paper (stored in a cupboard next to the printer) absorbing moisture and curling when exposed to the heated interior of the printer.

        We moved the printer and paper to the other side of the room and it fixed the issue.

        Mind you it paid for us to have a nice weekend in Busselton :)

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

          The Busselton with the pier in WA? nice spot!

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

      > he was there almost weekly

      A sure sign that he needs to double his call-out rates, at least to that particular customer.

      1. Rol Silver badge

        Similar scenario with a computer operator

        He'd be absolutely fine the night before, as I cheerily said "good night" adding "I'd see you in the morning"

        He'd be ordering one last beer and the next time I see him, he'd be a dysfunctional mess.

        We never did fathom the problem.

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

      I visited a house years ago where an OAP family friend lived. She was told that I had just done my Electrics basics exam and passed. I was then quizzed about the lovely three pin sockets that littered the walls of the house. Does the electricity leak all over the place when the switch is set to on? Is it dangerous to have it all over the floor and can it get through the floorboards? Should she keep something plugged in to the socket to keep it from leaking?

      My mum whispered to me that whatever I said I must not frighten her with my answers. So I explained everything in a way she'd understand and not be worried by. The only thing I said that wasn't true was that the electricity that came out of the three pin sockets was better quality than the stuff that came out of the old two pin sockets. Apparently she had expressed a desire on more than one occasion to go back to the old ones.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: Similar scenario with a line printer

        "The only thing I said that wasn't true was that the electricity that came out of the three pin sockets was better quality than the stuff that came out of the old two pin sockets."

        Even that's not exactly untrue. "Less likely to kill you" is better in my book.

  4. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Nice one!

    Might have been kept for a Halloween edition, but maybe the Reg have a more eldritch story up their sleeves.

  5. JetSetJim Silver badge

    > FWIW, similar problems with morning go-slows at Vulture Central are often solved by pouring coffee down writers' throats.

    Heh - I'd have thought it would be hair o' the dog, not coffee, to get the morning go-slows going

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      They're journalists, methylated spirits would probably work just as well as alcohol.

      1. Johndoe888

        They're journalists, methylated spirits would probably work just as well as alcohol.

        BigClive tasted it ROTF

        BigClive tastes Methylated spirit

        1. Richard51

          But which methylated spirits? Ordinary commercial, without crystal violet but with pyridine, with crystal violet but without pyridine, of crystal violet and pyridine free?

          Like many things the simple statement covers a multitude of sins,

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I remember once

    Doings some work on a custom telnet client for a guy selling applications into business.

    He also sold hardware. Branded Apricots and generic PC clones, All DOS 2.x stuff

    "Look" he said "How my DOS database application runs 5x faster on the Apricot, than on the Clone!"

    "That does not compute" I said 'let me take a look"

    Yep. On the Apricot config.sys was configured with 5 times and many buffers for file caching as on the clone. I adjusted the clone to the same.

    "Look" I said "The clone is faster"

    I never got asked back.

    1. G.Y.

      Re: I remember once

      "it is amazing how hard it is to understand something when your livelihood depends on not understanding it"

  7. m0rt

    Pull the other...

    "* FWIW, similar problems with morning go-slows at Vulture Central are often solved by pouring coffee down writers' throats."

    Sure. Coffee. Right...

    1. Callam McMillan

      Re: Pull the other...

      What's wrong with that?

      Coffee in the morning to get things going, the antidote for which is beer in the afternoon!

      Icon - Because there's no cup of coffee and it's Friday!

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: Pull the other...

        Tea for me. Ta Muchly.

  8. Richard Gray 1


    A few years back I was working for Scotrail, well not them, but as a sub contractor to the contractor contracted to the contrator with the contract fot Scotrail.

    One day we had to move one of the large format printers from a shed on the platform as it wasn't working well ( in a freezing shed on a cold damp platform in the middle of Glasgow who'd have guessed) .

    Although we had the key, the door was stuck so badly we had to shoulder charge it open (thinking, we'll get arrested if we are not careful).

    We then trundled the thing along the platform out of the gates and into the street, and no one said a word..

    When we installed it into the new office inside my 'boss' plugged it in where all the lights came on and beeping like a Glaswegian on Daytime TV.

    "It's broken" (or words to that effect) he said.

    I told him to unplug it and wait a couple of days (there would be a LOT of drying out and the buidling wasn't THAT warm.

    Sure enough a couple of days later powered up and worked perfectly.

    1. Outski

      Re: ED-209

      Have a Friday ------------------>>

      Just for the phrase "beeping like a Glaswegian on Daytime TV."

      1. Richard Gray 1

        Re: ED-209


    2. Morrie Wyatt

      Re: ED-209

      "A few years back I was working for Scotrail, well not them, but as a sub contractor to the contractor contracted to the contractor with the contract for Scotrail."

      Lone Star, is that you?

      The Schwartz be with you.

      Dark Helmet: I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate.

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Quite believeable

    A similar problem was discovered with older VCRs, which were then fitted with a dew lamp. This was part of a system that stopped you using the machine and gave a condensation warning. Trying to drag a tape around a damp drum would have been a recipe for disaster!

    1. Emjay111

      Re: Quite believeable

      Well yes, and no.

      The dew sensor was a flat resistive element that did change it's value with moisture present. The lamp to which you refer was used to detect start and end of the tape. Subsequent end of tape detection was done with infra red LEDs - which were much more reliable.

      A nice little earner was to be made in the 80's replacing those filament lamps though. I've still got some in storage ! :-)

      In a former life, I was a production engineer for a major Japanese VCR manufacturer, and as part of finished goods QA, we used to remove the top cover and blast in some moisture from a modified humidifier, just to check that the dew detection circuitry was functioning correctly.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Quite believeable

        I stand sit corrected. Must be the approach of late middle age (I refuse to ever be old)

      2. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Quite believeable

        My old VCRs have magnetic end of tape sensors, and they still work.

        Yes a working 1982 portable still works.

  10. DropBear

    Ghost in the machine

    If you're looking for spooky computer-related stuff, there's no need to go any further than a certain fairly popular upload sharing site that uses an old-school text-based orange captcha box instead of the ubiquitous "you shall train our AI" Google ones: I swear almost all of the text it throws at you has a distinctly whimsical / spooky quality - it is very, very obviously _not_ random text, to the point where you fact-of-the-matter start expecting one of the texts to say either "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that", "take me to your leader" or just "doooooo eeeeeet!" any moment now. Laugh all you want, but I swear the choice of those 2-3 words it throws at you each time... is genuinely unsettling.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: Ghost in the machine

      Whenever I'm answering those, I always end up putting a story together in my head about the "Happily street" or "Quickly Rainbow", usually focused on setting up some contrived situation in which it becomes grammatical English.

      1. HelpfulJohn Bronze badge

        Re: Ghost in the machine

        "If one dislikes one's roommate, one can happily street the nuisance. "

        "When bored with the commonly disliked Windows Blue backgrounds, one can hack the Registry to quickly rainbow them."

        In English almost any noun can be verbed.

    2. swm Silver badge

      Re: Ghost in the machine

      In the middle 1960's we had a GE card reader that refused to read green cards. We warned people about this but they wouldn't listen. The cards would feed 9-edge first and make a right angled turn and then eject through a photo reader 1st column first. This reader would sometimes tear the webbing between the 7 row near column 56 (or something like that).

      It was always fun to tell people that the reader wouldn't read green cards when they came in with their multi-colored card decks. They would look at us like we were crazy but when the reader would get to the green cards in their deck it would jam. After flattening out the damaged card and rereading it the card reader would jam on the next green card.

      Apparently the green ink made the cards less rigid than the other colors.

  11. wyatt

    A story I was told on a course was of a Ptarmigan Switch in Bosnia. During a power change, AC was cut and the Switch ran on DC (2 or 4 batteries) until the AC was moved to a new generator. As part of the procedure, you had to manually power back on the ACU.

    The story goes that the power change was done and the equipment was back on AC but with no ACU. Someone went into the box body to find it dripping with water, having had no dehumidifying for some time. Not great for electronics. They started the ACU and left it for a few days and it dried out, never stopping working once.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't you just lovePtarmigan...

      Yup, they were cold and damp, SAS/MC was even worse as it was only 28V and the heater felt like the aforementioned Glaswegian breathing on you.

  12. steviebuk Silver badge

    Not me

    "something we can all get behind on a Friday."

    I don't drink.

    1. deive

      Re: Not me

      Good for you...assume that you do eat though, so a long lunch is still something you can get behind, right?

      1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

        Re: Not me

        He does, but only condescendingly.

      2. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: Not me

        Yeah, didn't think of that :)

  13. ukgnome

    Defo Spooky

    Condensation is ghost water

  14. Stevie Silver badge


    Never disabuse friends of their ghost.

    I once went to a friend's house which was an old brick house with heating made by black iron pipes hanging in mid-air through which hot air was ducted. The kitchen, they said, had a ghost that would rap on the table when they were cooking.

    I looked at the large, heavily varnished, butcher-block table against the wall. I took a gander under it.

    "Would I be right in saying the ghost knocks again about an hour or so after you are done with dinner?" I asked. They were stunned and said it did.

    So I told them that I thought it was more likely that the pine table, which was varnished only on the top, was expanding as the steam from the cooking made the air moist. The table was bolted by a large steel bracket to the wall which would grip and grip and grip and then let go, rather like a tectonic slip-strike fault, making a sharp noise. When the air dried out again after dinner, the table would shrink with the same effect. I said they could exorcise the ghost with a wrench by loosening the nuts on the securing bolts a turn.

    Never saw people I cared about look so sad so quickly before. Lesson learned. Now I reckon I would say "Wow!" and shut the fuck up.

    1. -tim

      Re: Bah!

      I had a house that had a number of hanging plastic dome lights. When they cooled after being turned off, I would hear a pop and see a flash. A friend was convinced she would see ghosts. I decided to record the noise and the flash but it wasn't there. What was there was piezoelectric generator. I've found it interesting that many places with high ghost siting areas have piezoelectric geological effects and different cultural areas seem to have different results such as ghosts, UFOs or saints.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smoker's Condensation on the heads...

    Had a client once, a small finance department which consisted of 3 bookkeepers crammed into a shoebox of a room. They were fierce smokers. Tobacco smoke condensation covered everything, but especially inside of the PC where the fans constantly brought smoke-laden air through. When I had to use the floppy drive to transfer data, it didn't read. To fix it, I had to clean it with a cleaning floppy, one of the type with the white fabric disk. There was a long brown smear where the heads gave up their years'-worth of smoke condensation. That was nasty, all right!

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Smoker's Condensation on the heads...

      Skid marks in the loo...

  16. Arachnoid

    One from DARPA

    "AI cannibalism

    In the early 2000s, Mike Sellers was working on social AI agents for DARPA. During one simulation, two AI agents named Adam and Eve were given a few basic skills. They knew how to eat, but not what to eat. When they tried to eat apples from a tree, they felt happy. When they tried to eat wood from the same tree they didn't get any reward.

    So far so good, right? Things started going haywire when another AI agent, Stan, was introduced. Adam and Eve learned associatively. Because Stan was hanging around when they were eating apples, the agents learned to associate Stan with both eating and the feeling of happiness.

    Guess what happened next?

    "At the time it was pretty horrifying as we realized what had happened," writes Sellers. "In this AI architecture, we tried to put as few constraints on behaviors as possible... but we did put in a firm no cannibalism restriction after that: no matter how hungry they got, they would never eat each other again."

  17. NorthIowan

    Condensation is not good for disks.

    Had someone who wanted to restart writing his book. He had stopped working on it several years before and left the Mac and a few floppies with backups in the garage. His kid had long ago reformatted the Mac hard drive to use on his computer. So the floppies were all that was left.

    This being Iowa the temperature and humidity vary all over. I couldn't read the floppies reliably at first. This after I put a floppy drive in a Linux PC with the correct Linux drivers/software to read Mac formatted disks. Slid the cover over and saw that all the disks had spots of mildew on them. Spent a hour or so washing them all through the little slot with a bunch of Q-tips. Then I could read them pretty good.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: Condensation is not good for disks.

      It's not good for paper either....

      Printer constantly jamming in one area, ham-fisted (Ironic as we daily turned cows into something delicious) night shift users constantly ripping the paper trying to extract from the fuser, resulting in numerous service calls.

      Cause of the jams - Damp paper.

      Why was the paper damp - Old wooden table removed (before I started) & that used to soak up all the moisture in the air.

      Solution - Department collected a fresh ream of paper at the start of every shift.

  18. Colintd

    Sticky disc

    In the early 90's we had a Compaq 33MHz 386 as a main build server, with a hard disc (can't remember the vendor or size) where they had made a bad choice of spindle lubricant. It would run indefinitely if left on, but if you turned it off overnight, the next day the disc wouldn't spin up when you turned it back on. The "trick" was to turn on the power, then lift up the whole case and give it a sharp twist. The inertia of the disc meant you overcame the static friction and the disc would then startup. Over time the twist required became larger/more sudden, but it lasted until we upgraded to a shiny new 486.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Sticky disc

      Quantum 105MB drive? They used to do the same in SPARCstations, solution was much the same, although lifting the front of the pizza box up an inch or two and letting it slam back to the table worked too.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: Sticky disc

        I vaguely recall a batch of Rodime 40M disks with the same problem.

      2. Colintd

        Re: Sticky disc

        I'm sure you're right, and it was a Quantum drive. I'd forgotten all about them.

  19. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

    The Other Extreme

    Went to site on a Friday Afternoon to investigate discover why the network was slow on Monday mornings & a bit better each other morning of the week at a Doctors surgery.

    The answer was evident in about 30 seconds, the router, switches, VPN box & access points were all kept in a kitchen wall cabinet full of medical items, left open during the day.

    "Do you close this at night?"


    "I know what your problem is""

    "What?" (Disbelieving tone)

    "You're cooking your kit, overnight & the weekends, when you open the door each morning it gives the equipment chance to cool down!"

  20. ROC

    Green screens going snap, crackle, pop!

    Reminds me of when I was managing the setup of a small college computing center in central Virginia. This was in the mid-80's, and the IT director had gone the "safe" route with an IBM 4341 "mainframe" running VM/SP to host a DOS/VSE CICS/ICCF Virtual Machine for admin "apps", and a MUSIC/SP VM (if anyone knows what that is, you get a Big Iron Trivia - "BIT" prize) for academic use.

    I was officially the systems programmer, but did a lot of ancillary support, including various hardware support including setting up the student lab with Telex (or maybe Memorex?) green screen IBM 3278 CRT clones in a room built into a corner of the old gym. This "phase" was done in the middle of a typical steamy Virginian summer. The lab was set up pretty much like a standard classroom with the CRT's on individual computer workstation desks of the era in neat rows/columns.

    We had also installed some high capacity window-mounted air conditioners (no central air in old small state college secondary gyms then), but in his typical ham-handed fashion, the IT director, doing a bit of token hands-on "leadership" decided the AC would be set to maximum coldness to offset the outside steaminess. Although I could not quite articulate a concrete objection, aside from the ergonomic issue of fingers getting too cold to type on the 3270-style keyboards, my mental alarms were clanging ....

    After an hour or 2 of the big chill settling in, we saw the real issue when the room's door was opened long enough for the outside humidity to surge into the room: The condensation on the non-heated, plastic parts of the CRT's dripped into the electronics, and shorted out several of the units closest to the door - they were "sweating" like a cold glass of water. I immediately powered off all the units, and unplugged them, then set the AC to minimal coolness in hopes that would be a more reasonable balance of comfort for humans, and equipment. I believe I needed the Telex tech who came out with replacements to explain very clearly to the director why this happened to back me up in keeping it that way before turning the CRT's back on.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Our ghost used to turn Pcs on.

    I got a call from some medical but non technical people.

    We asked users to log out of computers at night but not turn them off so that we could scan, update etc all of them. Thery had discussed it amongst themselves and concluded that we couldn't possibly mean that and carefully turned off the computer and left the screen on. This was in the days before "magic packets" so i set the BIOS to turn it on at 06.00 on weekdays.

    We got a call that a "ghost hacker" was using their computer every night. When the story got out, some of our consultants took to unplugging their computers at night and calling us up in the mornings because they were slow!

  22. capcomms


    I had a similar experience back in the 90's which involved a bloody big safe and a bunch of floppy discs.

    Along with the bloody great magnet the woman used to secure said floppies to the side of the safe...

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  23. Strebortrebor

    Early, full-height 8 inch floppy drives had synchronous spindle motors. We added CP/M systems at field sites that had 10KVA UPSes to support a redundant minicomputer system. Some of the backup disks from field sites were unreadable at the home office. Turns out that these 1970s-vintage UPSes had free-running oscillators and were not crystal-controlled or phase-locked to the mains. The frequency could be off by a couple of hertz, changing the spindle speed proportionately.

    We set up an audio oscillator, a 100-watt public-address amplifier, and a transformer to power one of the system's 2 drives, tweaked the frequency until the drive could read reliably, and PIPed the data to a fresh disk in the other drive, which remained powered by the utility.

    The later, half-height drives ran on DC and did not have the issue.

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ghost destroyed my system

    Its name was Norton. Ha!

  26. enigma-it

    Seen a different but related issue

    Back in the days of Netware, diskless workstations and 10Base2 coax networking, I was a similar situation. Computers wouldn't boot up early in the morning, but by the time I in to take a look, everything was fine.

    The end result was that there was a long coax under the building eaves, and the cabler hadn't vrimped the center pin properly. Overnight, the temperature dropped and the metal contracted enough to break the connection. Once the sun came up and warmed the cable, everything worked.

  27. Andy3

    Not wanting to brag, but as a video engineer I would have been on this in a flash. It's a commom problem when a customer transports a tape in their car on a Winter's night and gets back to base and the tape is taken indoors, where moisture quickly forms on the cold surface. This can be disastrous for both the tape and the spinning head drum as the tape sticks to the drum and snatches at the tape. Usually this strips off some of the tape's oxide coating and in extreme cases will also crack the fragile ferrite heads.

  28. Choch

    what's a floppy disk

    This is something from the last century. Didn't say size of disks, 18 inch, 12 inch, or 8 inch. Most newbies not sure what a floppy is. Maybe something in newer news.

  29. Glenturret Single Malt

    Anyone who has ever taken a bottle of cold liquid out of the fridge at breakfast time will know that the condensation forms when it is brought out into the room and not overnight in the fridge.

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