back to article Clunk, bang, rattle: Is that a ghost inside your machine?

Welcome to the latest issue of On Call, where readers share their tech support crises and triumphs. And, since it's Día de Muertos and we've just passed Halloween, El Reg thought we'd pick out a few tales for a spooky special. Computer conjuring First up, we meet "Jonathan", who recalls a scary call during his time as IT …

  1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    Always wondered what the cops used when dusting for fingerprints.

    Now I know - and it's good to know.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Indeed, now I know that if any fingerprinting has gone on around a computer, no turning it on until a serious cleaning has taken place, cleaning that includes a can of compressed air and an outside space.

      Preferably windy.

    2. Shadow Systems

      At Anonymous South African Coward, re: fingerprint powder.

      For some odd reason I just thought: "What's it made of? That's easy! Ground up fingers! They take 'em when they fingerprint you during booking!"

      I think I need less blood in my caffeine stream...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: At Anonymous South African Coward, re: fingerprint powder.

        For some odd reason I just thought: "What's it made of? That's easy! Ground up fingers! They take 'em when they fingerprint you during booking!"

        Aaaaaaand, I'm sure you know how baby oil is made too!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I wish I'd known this after I was burgled - the scrotes nicked some random items including yoghurts, of all things, and a power drill, but left before taking the valuable VCR (this was some years ago). The enthusiastic cops with their aluminium powder caused far more damage to this one item than the thieves managed in total.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Semtex451

      Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

      Exactly, I use it as a caffeine-free alternative.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

      Of course, it's important to impress on said victim of their own stupidity that the toner must be ICE COLD in order to prevent the toner fusing into their skin...

      1. gordonmcoats

        Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

        Aaaah, depends on whether it was hot-fuse or cold fuse.. (IBM, hot, Seimens cold AFAICR)

        When working for a bank as an operator in the late 80s, we often had to refill IBM and Siemens laser line printers, with large plastic bottles of the black stuff. the Seimens refill hatch was on top of the printer and used to have a vibrating system which emptied the bottles. Impatient operators would sometimes assist, giving the bottle a good shake. This often resulted in a big black cloud, and even blacker operator. looked impressive on the white lab coats we had to wear tho..

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          A new meaning

          for the popular telephone greeting "Siemens Staines".

          Anonymous obviously.

    3. Dabooka

      Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

      I used to get the job of refilling some (Fujitsu / Konica?) copiers at our office some 8-10 years ago. I'm not IT or a technician, but know my way around so they were happy to show me and leave me to it.

      One day someone else decided it must be easy if a bozo like I could manage it and took it upon themselves. Getting the replacement black toner out from the cupboard, they saw what they thought was a plastic tab to pull out prior to inserting the drum, a la laser printer, except on these printers the toner was designed to be securely placed over the hopper, with the tab releasing the lid allowing toner to fall into the hopper.

      The dust cloud, the mess and the stains will forever be emblazoned on my memory as it will the carpet and walls.

      1. Christoph

        Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

        Coming up the stairs to the office I met the secretary coming down towards the washroom, with her entire face blackened by toner except a streak under each eye cleared by tears.

        The (very old) copier was refilled by spooning the toner into it. The toner had got clogged up. She had realised an instant too late that the way to deal with this is NOT to bend down close to the toner holder and blow hard.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Spooning toner into the copier

          I was wondering how that exec could possibly believe you needed to open the toner cartridge. Still seems like you should know it wasn't intended to be opened and poured in given that it didn't have a simple shape like a jug of milk, but at least his theory about pouring toner might have had some basis in his previous experience had he encountered such a copier - never heard of this sort of thing myself.

          1. MiguelC Silver badge

            Re: Spooning toner into the copier

            People do most stupid things... long ago, a co-worker had to run a program from a 5 1⁄4-inch disk.

            The instructions were simple, take the disk out of its envelope and insert in in the drive and then start the program.

            He managed to pry the magnetic disk out of its casing and wondered why it didn't work as intended...

            1. G.Y.

              IBM Re: Spooning toner into the copier

              A lot of IBM PC guinea-pigs did that -- enough to make IBM rewrite the user manual

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Spooning toner into the copier

              "He managed to pry the magnetic disk out of its casing and wondered why it didn't work as intended..."

              I used a craft knife. The glue sealing those floppy disk envelopes was bloody strong!

            3. Solo Owl

              Re: Spooning toner into the copier

              Reminds of the fellow working a help desk telephonically. He told the caller to get a clean floppy. There was a long pause. Finally she came back and said, "OK, I washed the floppy."

              1. Allan George Dyer

                Re: Spooning toner into the copier

                @John Brown (no body), @Solo Owl - I once saved a student's thesis by combining those techniques. Student's husband spills coffee on 5.25" floppy, desperate student brings it to tech support (me) for help. Carefully slice open floppy, remove disc, wash gently with distilled water then alcohol, allow to dry, slice open a new floppy, insert washed disc in new case, copy data (it survived!) to another new floppy, return to grateful student with a reminder to keep multiple backups.

          2. shedied

            Re: Spooning toner into the copier

            Jug of milk was the sort I had to deal with, refilling the large format Laser printers (HP, Ice et al), and they were held vertically upsidedown till empty. Trust me I've read every comic book-style instruction set there was, to keep my shirt clean.

        2. bpfh

          Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

          I think I have told this story before. Working for IBM, one of the big laser printers installed in the office had a big hopper of toner - like an a3 width Tupperware box with probably a pound of toner in it that you had to remove, take the new one, peel the alu foil off the top exposing the Black Death, and replace in the printer. It’s all fun and games until one of the Printing System Division techs walked back to the support office in blackface and black shirt after sneezing into the hopper mid replace... The director’s secretary was none too pleased about the impromptu printing room redecoration either.

    4. Stevie

      Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

      The urge to have the boob in blackface insert cones of A4 into each nostril and his mouth while waiting for the medics “so he could breathe comfortably and safely” would have been overpowering for me.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

      a cold shower would be best as heat sets the toner!

    6. Spanners Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

      That link confirms what I was taught a long time ago. I tell people its carcinogenic.

      What did the paramedics do? I would suspect getting him outside and hoovering him down before stripoff and decontam shower.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Given the toxicity of the toner powder, Mike called an ambulance forthwith.

        It's the breathing of the stuff that's the problem, it's so fine it will block the aviolas in the lungs (or whatever they're called). Getting a medic to check them over is a good idea in my opinion.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Scary ?

    Try working in a building that's still under construction....

    After being told to install a couple of computers in a couple of offices located at the other side of the bulding...

    I found myself walking down a darkened hallway...

    At the end of the hallway was a door I thought led to another office...

    After opening it... taking a step forward... and being blinded by sunlight...

    I suddenly realised there was no floor underneath my feet...

    Only a 60 foot drop onto the concrete pavement...

    It turned out it was a fire-escape door... and the ladder wasn't installed yet...

    Luckily I managed to firmly grasp the doorhandle and pull myself back in...

    Now THAT scared the crap out me !

    1. theModge

      Re: Scary ?

      You hadn't perchance annoyed a certain sysadmin, know in these parts as the BOFH had you?

      It's been a long time since I did site work, but I generally thought the entire purpose of safety elves was to prevent that kind of thing.

    2. MarkB

      Re: Scary ?

      You are Albert Campion and I claim my share of the Barnabus legacy.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scary ?

      The year is 2150, you are Bernard Cribbins and I claim my £5!

      1. Nick Kew

        Re: Scary ?

        The year is 2150, you are Bernard Cribbins and I claim my £5!

        The £5 coin was phased out last century, as the value of a single sheet of A4 hit £100.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    toner powder

    "“I did, and as I turned around, I realised he was covered in black toner powder from the neck up… I don't know how he did it but he managed to pry open the toner cartridge and blasted toner into his face. He thought the powder went into the printer.”"

    This reminds me of a quite recent story.

    Small office, single printer, and of course, the recycling cartridge was full. And no, the office manager had only planned for *toner* cartridges, not recycling cartridge.

    So, not being an expert, I pointed out to her we need to dispose properly of this full cartridge (it was even written in big red letters "don't throw away in the wild") via the support contract.

    But she would have none of it and explained we will dispose "the usual way" and proceeded to show me.

    She would go to the men room (yes, men, not women), and dump the whole content in the sink (fumes everywhere) and proceed to flush all out.

    I was like, speechless.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: toner powder

      She would go to the men room...

      Had you ever been to a ladies' toilet, you would understand why she didn't take you there (assuming you are male).

      Do. Not. Go. There. Ever.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: toner powder

        @Evil Auditor:

        Ex-Janitor here. the men's room was messy in the usual manner (discoloration by the urinals, the occasional crap cleanup from a drunk/high person who missed the toilet, etc.) but good bog the messes in the ladies room on occasion.. Ugh.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: toner powder

      users tend not to understand how things work. I worked at a lab for 20 years, one day a senior scientist rang to say the printer on the 3rd floor wasn't printing very well. I just said ok have you tried shaking it you'll get several thousand more prints from it. The response "what the printer?" ermmmm noooo just the toner. Wish I'd said yes and went to see him try and shake a HP4300DTN!

    3. paulf

      Re: toner powder

      Not as good a story as some of the other toner related ones but it's on topic.

      I've been familiar with laser printers/copies since I was the only one who knew how to operate the office copier at my Saturday job. As a result I was unofficially appointed the main point of contact to resolve problems plus do light to moderate maintenance/unjamming. I was also the only one, other than the service technician, who knew how to get in to the maintenance screens but that's another story...

      Fast forward to a few years ago in the current Paulf & co. The main A3 colour laser printer/copier device (serving a building with about 200 engineers) was reporting a full waste toner bottle so all printing was blocked. The usual trick of jiggling it about to try and lift it off the weight based trip switch didn't work. I turned to the receptionist/admin and asked if we had a new waste toner bottle. She asked what colour needed replacing? I then had a very painful five minutes trying to explain to her that there was one waste toner bottle for all four colours, with an extended remix of yes you do throw it away when it's full and put an empty one in.

      Icon - don't inhale the waste toner.

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    RFI ghosts

    In my first programming job I wrote code for image-analysed microscopy both for the Department of Medical Microbiology and for the Department of Dermatology at our University Medical Centre. Both departments had a PC with a Matrox MVP-AT/NP board both as frame grabber and accelerator of the image processing we were doing. My code ran flawlessly at Medical Microbiology, but whenever I used the accelerator options of the neighbourhood processor (the NP in MVP-AT/NP), it became erratic at Dermatology. It frequently crashed or froze. After much research, I found the source was the HUGE, clunky Leica power supply for the mercury lamp used for fluorescence imaging at the latter department. It was throwing out so much RFI and polluting the mains supply with a variety of spikes, that the card simply became unreliable. The much smaller, and far more modern power supplies of the Olympus microscopes (for the same type of mercury lamp) used in Medical Microbiology did not cause this trouble. No manner of shielding prevented the problems (probably because the computer had to be close to the microscope), so I had to maintain a special version of the code which avoided the use of the NP unit of the Matrox card. Even then we had to instruct users to switch on the mercury lamp first, and only then boot the computer up. I was so pleased when they got an update to their microscope so they could ditch that horrible power supply, and I could maintain just a single code base of the MVP-AT/NP machines.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: RFI ghosts

      Ah, I was waiting for a story where the answer was in electromagnetism. Though I suppose that the EGA monitor which killed its host PC qualifies, although that's self-harming and it doesn't feel "right". And ideally the interfering equipment is on the other side of a wall, and preferably an outside wall. But still... thank you.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: RFI ghosts

      "After much research, I found the source was the HUGE, clunky Leica power supply for the mercury lamp used for fluorescence imaging at the latter department."

      Was this the stabilized one? Make sure all nearby electronics are switched off before firing it up. It's along time since I used one of those but remember it being a brute.

    3. swm

      Re: RFI ghosts

      When I was in college writing the executive for the Dartmouth time sharing system we had delivered an RCA RACE unit for storage. I was told to hook it into the system as a low-priority task when I had time. So I did but whenever I configured the unit into the system (via a configuration punched card) the system would always give an immediate "transfer timing error". The field engineers would run their diagnostics at night and never saw that fault. Eventually we decided that we should get together and figure out what was going on. I knew exactly which card in the card deck (the configuration card) the system would fail so I didn't bother to load the rest of the cards after it. When the system read the configuration card everything worked perfectly and the system asked for the remainder of the card deck!?

      I was about to repeat the experiment with the complete deck when the field engineer (who was very good) stopped me and reached over to the card reader and pulled back the hopper and said, " do you hear that whine?" He then ran his diagnostics with the card reader on and pulled back the hopper on the card reader when the diagnostics were running. Instant transfer timing errors.

      It turned out that the field engineers ran their diagnostics from tape with the card reader off as it was too noisy. Investigation showed that the speed of a brush vacuum motor was controlled by SCRs and someone had put capacitors across the motor windings to "eliminate" noise. When the SCR fired it put the capacitor across the utility supply line causing 70 volt spikes. This got into the peripheral wires and caused the errors.

      We quietly removed the capacitors and things worked better. The RACE unit never did work reliably - shooting out springs and crumpled cards but at least we solved one problem.

  6. chivo243 Silver badge

    Chasing ghosts

    DCOM errors.... it's an error, but somewhere in the fine print M$ says it's expected behavior? Wha?

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: Chasing ghosts

      Simple: it is an error. An expected error.

      1. chivo243 Silver badge

        Re: Chasing ghosts

        @Evil Auditor

        I'm beginning to think it's a hidden feature!

        1. Killfalcon Silver badge

          Re: Chasing ghosts

          In IBM's PCOMMS API, at least the aged version my illustrious employer still uses, there are functions that return phantom "true" values that do not trigger "if Blah= True then" statements.

          But... they aren't strings, or ints, or anything else you might see kicking around pretending to be a boolean. They're very explicitly Boolean values. You can see this clear as day in your Locals, they happily work with declared Boolean variables, but they remain unholy ghost-values.

          I mean, when they're False, they can be tested for "= False" like you'd expect. But if they're True, they can't be tested for "= True". I spent hours trying to work out what I'd done wrong - surely that had to be a mistake - maybe I wasn't declaring the type properly, or had misspelled "true" in the test or something - but nothing made it behave.

          So now, buried in some of my old automation code next to some rather explicit comments is:

          If Cbool(Cstr([foo])) != False then ...

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: Chasing ghosts

            As a guess, False is defined as zero and True as anything non-zero. The boolean constant value "True" is probably defined as 1, so if a routine returns, say, 2 then "Blah != False" will be true (if you see what I mean), but "Blah = True" will still not be true.

            Maybe the test should just have been "if (Blah) then"?

          2. aelfric

            Re: Chasing ghosts

            Just because your compiler and debugger knows it is a boolean, does not mean that the storage for it is only a single bit, it is going to be at least a byte and can hold a range of values. Assuming that False is 0, True is anything that is not False. ie there are many, many values that will evaluate to True. So testing for = True is always going to be a gamble and should never be done. != False is the only safe option, or just use the value as is without the test, let the compiler evaluate it to be being true or not.

            1. Killfalcon Silver badge

              Re: Chasing ghosts

              "Just because your compiler and debugger knows it is a boolean, does not mean that the storage for it is only a single bit, it is going to be at least a byte and can hold a range of values."

              You know, that probably is what was happening. I don't mess with bytes much myself, so it never occurred to me! Thanks for the insight there.

            2. Stevie

              Re: Many values for true

              But wouldn’t the compiler build the test as not-false in that architecture? If not, why in Cray’s name? If the defined type is Boolean, the “many values for true” thing is asinine.

              1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                Re: Many values for true

                It's perfectly logical.

                There is only one zero (easily provable by 1 line of set theory) there are infinite non-zero numbers

                There is only one way for a function to succeed but an infinite number of ways to fail

                So make success zero

                1. Stevie

                  Re: Many values for true

                  No it is NOT logical. If the compiler "knows" it is dealing with a logical data item, and it does according to everyone involved in the discussion, why in Lovelace's name would the compiler deal with it in a non-Boolean two-state manner?

                  I get that the data location can hold more than one value. I've been doing computers long enough to have seen real core memory and know how binary numbers work.

                  But what I DON'T get is why, having decided to allow a programmer to define such a piece of storage for Boolean use, it would then structure a test for true against an unknown exact arithmetic value rather than the one it knows will work against a definable template: "non-zero". The assembly language involved would lean one toward that solution in any event.

                  And yes I know that in certain one's compliment architectures you can have two non-identical values for zero. Testing against two possible values versus testing against 2 to the power of $BITCOUNT values? Should have been a no-brainer.

                  1. Black Betty

                    Re: Many values for true

                    Assembler library code is a likely culprit.

                    That or porting code from a language with strong data typing such as PASCAL in which booleans have exactly 2 values (TRUE and FALSE) to one that defines TRUE as any non-zero value.

                    Optimizing compilers (particularly early ones) can do strange and unanticipated things to code. Best practice is simply to never explicitly test for a TRUE condition.

                    1. Paul Cooper

                      Re: Many values for true

                      I've mentioned it before but the IBM Fortran H optimizing compiler had a neat trick. If you wrote a loop with a rand function within the loop, and didn't change the argument of the rand function within the loop, the optimizing compiler carefully optimized the rand function outside the loop! So it became constant within the loop, which wasn't usually what you wanted.... It wasn't a very good rand function, but making it constant tended to produce odd results!

                2. codger

                  Re: There is only one zero (easily provable by 1 line of set theory) ...

                  Control Data ones complement machines had two values for zero, positive zero which we all know and love, and negative zero.


    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Chasing ghosts

      >DCOM errors.... it's an error, but somewhere in the fine print M$ says it's expected behavior?

      DCOM - our chief weapon is surprise,

      Surprise and fear

      Our main weapons are surprise and fear and a fanatical devotion to Win95

  7. Steve Kerr

    Old Victorian building

    My first job was working in an old Victorian building in Aldwych back in 1987

    Was working late one evening - by myself.

    The office was basically split into two with a computer room in the middle, the far side, where my desk was only had one way in or out, past the computer room and it was the 6th floor.

    Long story, but part of my job was developing oil survey graphs in a dark room that was in the computer room.

    I came out of the room and out of the computer room and heard the floor creaking to my right (one way in or out), it was a slightly raised floor and only creaked if someone walked on it. So I went down the corridor as was expecting the building security guard to be doing his rounds.

    Got round the corner, the creaking immediately stopped and nobody was visible, as i said, I was the only one there. 11pm at night, old Victorian building, Usain Bolt had nothing on me on exiting the floor with two 90 degree left hand turns.

    Rest of the time I worked there, used to turn out the lights and leave at a run!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Old Victorian building

      In the 1970s one of our offices was a Gothic country house surrounded by parkland. The main hall had a large staircase by a two storey window. When leaving at night you had to switch off the hall lights at the top of the staircase - then sense your way down the staircase heading for the neon glow of the downstairs switch. This was in an opposite wall - along which were projecting marble shelves with sharp corners at crotch height.

      On dark nights there was some light from the moon through the big window - fractured by the waving of tree branches. If the office mousing cat decided to scamper across your path - you had the hairs on your neck going vertical.

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: Old Victorian building

        In a previous job I usually worked long hours, oftentimes almost alone, in an old building.

        One night I started hearing faint footsteps, they seemed to be real near me, but I was unable to pinpoint where the sound was coming from and was sure no one was around (I got up to check several times).

        It finally dawned on me that something was off: they were too regular. The light-bulb moment came when I raised my eyes to the new clock in the hallway, just across my desk. Yes, the pointers moved to the sound of the footsteps I had heard until that moment...

    2. Shadow Systems

      Re: Old Victorian building

      An old coworker of mine likes to do animatronics to make his Halloween decorations scare the pants off the kids. He builds them at home, takes them in to work, & beta tests them on his current coworkers. This year involved a reprogrammed "Annoy-O-Tron" from Instead of the cricket chirps it normally makes he gave it various "Boo!", ghostly whispers, cackles, & scary noises designed to make you think the room was haunted. Evidently it worked TOO well, it cleared the damned building when their boss thought there was someone trapped in a ceiling crawl space.

      It *almost* makes me wish I still worked there (and could still see to enjoy the scene) to witness the chaos, confusion, & consternation when it went off, the boss went bonkers, & he had to admit to the prank so they could be let back in... Although if it happened on a Friday then I'd not say a thing so we could all enjoy an early weekend!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This year's Halloween house decorations had the addition of a 1m tall skeletal figure. When the SFX computer sequencer shorted a "try me" contact it would come to life. Glowing red eyes and choice phrases accompanied by the vigorous nodding of its head.

    To maximise the shock effect it lay face down by the front door - and was dragged upright at the appropriate point in the sequencing. The hall was dimly lit from the strings of flickering lights of a "magic field" on the carpet. Sitting there waiting for visitors - the figure occasionally started muttering. The sort of half-intelligible utterances that make you give someone a wide berth in the street.

    The relay indicator for the figure's sound was "off". It started to get to me - my atmospheric decorations were a tad too good for my primitive instincts.

    Then I realised that the figure's body was flat on top of some of the flickering lights. Sure enough the EMI was affecting the figure to give random short bursts of speech components.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      The sort of half-intelligible utterances that make you give someone a wide berth in the street.

      Anyone trying to get a word in on the phone, then.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Masterful Thievery

    Some years ago I did administration for a small town, including the elementary schools there.

    Several brand new laptops were stolen from teachers' lounge but they were anonymously returned a few days later in good condition.

    I was asked to check if they had eny evidence before deployment - amongst the installed games there were plenty of webcam videos and stills of teenage boys from the same school, identified by the teachers.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

      Re: A real ghost story - Not mine

      I wish you'd put at the top that it came from mumsnet, I'd have known it was utter bollocks straight off and saved myself a few minutes.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: A real ghost story - Not mine dreaming about a man made of balls with a gladius (Roman slang for penis) .....

        1. Nick Kew

          Re: A real ghost story - Not mine

 dreaming about a man made of balls with a gladius (Roman slang for penis) .....

          The ghost of Biggus Dickus?

  11. Colabroad

    My co-worker at an old job bought some Walkie-Talkies as part of hurricane season prep, he took one home and left the other to charge in the office.

    I was working late, probably faffing about with deployment images, when a woman's voice came over the handset, lousy with static, saying "You must find the keys to achieve freedom", then about half an hour later a fragment of a sentence "Your doom will arrive in one minute".

    The next morning I asked my boss and he professed no knowledge of the sentences, he had been home alone and had left the other handset in his car overnight. Throughout the week we got a few more cryptic, garbled, or static heavy messages.

    Thoroughly unnerved, a few days later I spotted an ad in the paper for an Escape Room type place that had recently opened several buildings away, the penny finally dropped that it would have been at the extreme range of our walkies and they must be using the same frequency!

  12. Stevie


    The OS1100 operating system used to have a vary rarely seen feature in which the console would clear, a giant eye would appear, wink, and then the console text stream would be replaced.

    There was just enough time for a shocked operator to recover his/her wits turn away to a colleague and say “have a look at this” for the evidence to vanish.

    The big 132 character impact line printers were very Stephen Kingy too, if placed behind the operator’s seat. When they ran out of paper the lid would slowly open like the maw of a vengeful machine on The Rise. The operator would feel the change of air pressure behind his/her seat or maybe catch the light being reflected off the console as the printer window angled up and turn to see the printer apparently in full Zombie mode, about to take a bite.

    And an ICL engineer once told me of an old 1900 that was surplussed and the engineers fitted with an exec that played the Dead March on it’s teletype whistle and various noisy peripherals (percussion courtesy of the old barrel printer hammering all Xs in proper time and so forth). Then an emergency customer need was fulfilled by delivering said 1900 to the customer, who was not impressed when it was fired up.

  13. MGyrFalcon

    Library of Doom

    My first computer job in college was as the backup operator for the research library's computer system. When I applied for the job I was told they had fast turn over on the position because people got freaked out by the sounds at night in the library. Being young, and really needing the job, I told the head librarian that I didn't spook easily and would be there for at least a year. I was wrong. My shift started at 10pm until around 1-1:30 am depending on the backup, so I was alone, in a darkened library isolated in the computer room. Thing about libraries, the books are constantly settling, making lots of odd shifting, creaking and other strange noises. After a month I was getting paranoid and started walking the library lobby between tape changes, sure someone had gotten into the building. After about 3 months, I couldn't handle it anymore and quit to preserve my sanity. Knowledge is power, stacks and stacks of books are just evil.

    1. Chris King

      Re: Library of Doom

      "Knowledge is power, stacks and stacks of books are just evil"

      Librarians are made of stronger stuff than mere mortals

    2. Stevie

      Re: Library of Doom

      Well everyone knows you have to chain the books down tightly or universe-ending mischief of the most virulent stripe is possible.

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Library of Doom

        Ook. Ook Ook!

        1. Martin J Hooper

          Re: Library of Doom

          I was hoping someone would mention the Librarian from the Unseen University!

          Ook Indeed!

    3. Pedigree-Pete

      Re: Library of Doom

      OOOk. PP

  14. Stevie


    No IT component, just some makering.

    My wife, daughter and I used to decorate our house for Halloween with a "wrought iron arch" and fences (actually panels from an old "tent" gazebo corner bits strapped to the fence with black cable ties and festooned with purple lights). We had a small graveyard in the little garden you had to walk past to get to the front door, with bones and skulls and bats and so forth, and I seeded the lawn with some nifty flats I made from plywood that made ghostly shadows of, er, ghosts and black cats. Passing cars would throw shadows from the matte black painted flats that were very effective.

    All designed to be "six year old scary". We left "terror" to the neighbour five doors down, who had a "working" electric chair out front. One Christmas he was executing Santa in it. I digress.

    Each year we would go to the post-halloween sales and add to the kit at rock-bottom prices. I picked up six sets of "ghostly marching footprint" lights for a song one year, enough to make for a ghost padding alongside the pathway as trick or treaters dared the front porch.

    Every year it was the same. Before sunset mothers would turn up with their youngsters and ask if they could photograph their kids in some part of the display. After dark is was Dads with kids in tow, and they would hang back at the gate while the kids came in for candy.

    One year, towards the end of the era when the nabe had young kids, I splurged and bought a smoke machine. Of course, the problem is that the "smoke" is actually hot glycol-based vapour and it goes *up* in the cold November air. So I made a fog chiller. I started with an old 40 gallon beer cooler, and cut three inch holes in each end near the bottom. I glued in some PVC schedule 40 pipe with gorilla glue and connected the two ends inside the cooler with a pipe made from chicken wire.

    I built a "U" bend from pipe so that the fog machine could sit on the cooler and shoot the fog into the bend, through the cooler and out through a two-foot extension pipe I fed into the graveyard foliage. Eight three pound bags of ice went into the cooler, forming an "ice-pipe". Still with me?

    When it got dark I turned on the fog machine and slow-moving clouds of ground-hugging fog enveloped the graveyard. Passing cars would dissipate the fog quickly and any wind at all was disastrous of course.

    But that night the Halloween Gods were on my side and the wind dropped and the traffic was non-existent for once. The fog built to Hammer House of Horror levels across the entire property. The black cat flats were poking out just enough to show heads and tails, and kids would be walking shin-deep in the lovely stuff.

    That night I opened the door for the kids and was greeted by the sight of a garden full of wandering dads trying to figure out how the hell I had managed to fill the garden with horror-movie fog.

    An hour or so later the traffic picked up and it was all dispersed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bah!

      I have never managed to do a real fog effect. The "dry ice" and glycol methods were all potentially dangerous in the confined space of the hallway. I invested in some ultrasonic water misters - but they didn't produce much mist on the surface of a tub of water.

      The most successful has been an imitation log fire that uses ultrasonic atomised water to create "smoke" which also reflects the red lights nicely as flames. Apparently an SFX now used in film sets on a larger scale to give the safe impression of an inferno. The logs and ash tray have flickering LED lighting to add to the effect.

      It is so realistic - even close up - that for the first couple of years my hand would automatically pause when going to adjust a log's position. A cheap plastic trident has been modified to have white LEDs inside the red prongs. Three channel PWM makes it look like a slowly pulsating hot iron being heated over the fire.

      1. Stevie

        Re: Bah!

        Dry ice requires very hot water to work, and is expensive. Almost every facet of the handling is prone to accidental burning (cold burning in one sense, scalding too).

        Glycol foggers are basically vape pens on steroids and altghough there is talk of health hazards, nothing is in print definitively tying any known problem to them, which is how they still get used in clubs etc.. The chilled stuff stays on the floor anyway.

        The only real hazard I can think of, and it is a real one, is that hardwood floors will become "dewed" and possibly slippery as a result. Oh, and you can get a burn off the fog projector if you buy a cheap one or run an expensive one too hard too long (intermittent use is the key).

        I like the ultrasonic fireplace, and your trident is masterful. Have an e-beer.

  15. H in The Hague

    Possessed CD player

    Didn't happen to me, read about this on a theatre sound mailing list:

    When the sound operator sat at the sound desk, the CD drawer of the CD player on the other side of the booth would open randomly. If the operator walked to the unit and pressed Close the drawer would stay closed while the operator was by the CD player, but would open again when they walked away from it.

    They eventually discovered that on the shelves on the opposite wall a heavy book had fallen on the CD player remote control, pressing the Open button if there was any vibration. However, when the operator was standing in front of the CD player they would interrupt the IR beam, hence the drawer would not open at that time.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Car wouldn't let girlfriend leave

    I once had a car that would lock all the doors when my girlfriend and I were in it and I turned off the engine. Wouldn't do it for anyone else, nor when it was just me in the car, but did it consistently for her.

    We eventually figured out that she was leaning on the lock knob, which was *pneumatically* connected to the locking system. When the engine was turned off, the vacuum pump would also turn off; this combined with the pressure she was exerting on the knob would lock all the doors.

  17. Diogenes

    Not a ghost in the machine

    At work, a school, it was a Saturday as l had to install some software, it was going on dusk as i headed back to my car, and heard a cheery "Hello Sir !" , turned to a boy who looked about 15, and noticed he had the old school badge on shirt, hackles started to rise, went to reply and then he was gone. I later found out that that "Charlie" as he is called, is a boy who was skylarking upstairs and went over the verandah railing , dying instantly due to skull damage. The teacher that shares my office claims to have given Jenny Dixon a lift

  18. cat_mara

    Is that a ghost inside your machine?

    ... or are you just pleased to see me. Eh? Eh?

    Fine. I'll get me shroud...

  19. Tim99 Silver badge

    I really don’t believe in the paranormal, but

    Before I retired, I had a customer site that is now a museum, It had been a Victorian prison. I was doing some on-site database work one night, when nature called. I left the small room that contained the server and workstation that I was using and walked past an adjoining small room to get to the corridor. It suddenly felt very cold (yes, it was a cold night, and the corridor was draughty) and more than a little creepy. I knew that the first small room had been a warder’s guard room (from the sign on the door), later I found that the second room was the condemned cell where prisoners were held before their execution.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: I really don’t believe in the paranormal, but

      I used to attend a amateur dramatics group. We existed in two parts, one part leased our theatre from the council, the other half owned a Georgian house, converted into rehearsal rooms, wardrobe rooms, & a basement for prop\backdrops & we also had a resident ghost by the name of "Charlie".

      Strange knocking noises would be silenced if you called out "Be quiet Charlie" or similar.

      A couple people saw a figure in a top hat & cloak style of costume at the door of the house dissipate as they approached.

      A group of students came in to rent costumes from us & the radio was left playing as the wardrobe mistress assisted the students with their costume requirements, after a while across she noticed that the radio was silent, all the students were with her but it was gone.

      Six months later it was found at the bottom of a trunk filled with costumes that hadn't been needed for a long while (Still on but battery flat), which had two more very heavy costume filed trunks placed on top of it. Her words....."Charlie didn't like the noise".

      Now my father used to odd job in his retirement, doing work as a carpenter, usually called into the local pub reversing the changes the previous landlord had done so every 7 months or so (Like reinstating doors that the previous landlord had wanted removed, money for old rope as he put it).

      One late lunchtime hes finished up & hes getting a complimentary pint & pub lunch after another job, when a guy walks in, hes watched by Father & another customer as hes clearly not a regular especially as he fades to nothing walking past a pillar.

      "Did you see that?"

      "I did if you did!"

      "OK I'm off" Drinks pint quickly

      "Me too!" Drinks pint, finishes lunch quickly & both exit.

      Six months to a year later I walk in to the bar mid Sunday afternoon, father is there as per usual, I sidle up to him & greet the old coffin dodger in my usual fashion & order myself a pint & a whiskey for him as hes taken up residence at the other end of the long bar on this occassion.

      "You should have been here 20 minutes ago!"

      "Why Dad"

      That fucking guy walked in through the door, dressed exactly the same & faded away in front of us all here as he reached the pillar!"

      Beer - Until the next time we have a drink together in the great pub hereafter Dad.

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: I really don’t believe in the paranormal, but

        Have we mentioned "Pepper's Ghost" already? Done with mirrors of course.

    2. Allan George Dyer

      Re: I really don’t believe in the paranormal, but

      I don’t believe in the paranormal either, but, true story, at my old college, if you walked through the cloisters at the right time, you would see one of the founders sitting in his chair, with his book and glasses on the small table next to him without his head. I saw him with my own eyes.

      Rumour was that his head still attended college council meetings, where he was recorded as "present, but not voting".

      1. ICPurvis47
        Big Brother

        Re: I really don’t believe in the paranormal, but

        At the bottom of the main staircase in University College London (UCL), off Gower Street, there is a wooden case with twin doors which open to reveal Jeremy Bentham sitting facing you. Only his head is the real, embalmed thing, the rest of his body is a waxworks effigy, dressed in period clothing. It can be really creepy of an evening to come down from my father's lab in Anatomy Department and see JB sitting there looking at you.

        1. Allan George Dyer

          Re: I really don’t believe in the paranormal, but

          @ICPurvis47 - No, the head is a waxwork, the rest is him. It's not just period clothing, it's his clothing. He asked for his body to be preserved and displayed as an auto-icon. Unfortunately, the process went badly wrong for his head, so that is kept in a box elsewhere.

          Glad to see someone twigged what I was on about.

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