back to article I'm just not sure the computer works here – the energy is all wrong

Welcome to the first Friday, and the first On Call of the new year – we hope your celebrations haven't left you too worse for wear. To kick things off in 2019, we thought we'd give you a bit of inspiration for a spot of Feng Shui, as "Vernon" tells us about a mysterious hard disk malfunction. "This happened around 1985 when …

  1. The curmudgeonly one

    on a similar note ...

    Years ago (early 80s) I had one client whose huge (physically) System Group CP/M box - the fancy one with two 8" floppies - would spontaneously reboot at random times. A few reboots is par for the course for these things. But this was happening about 8 or more times a day.

    Eventually I noticed that the thing rebooted whenever someone got milk out of the fridge nearby. That forced the elderly fridge to cycle, and its startup sent enough spikes around the AC circuits to induce a reboot.

    Moving the computer's power plug to a three-pin socket on a different AC phase solved the issue. But there was a lot of "you're daft" comments wen I told them that the fridge was doing it.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: on a similar note ...

      Yep, I've had that show up several times over the years.

      On a lighter note, the extension cable I used on my ZX81 had individual power switches for its 3 outlets. If I flicked the one for the tape recorder, it sent a spike to the ZX81, which was enough to interrupt the program 4 / 7 times. This was great for games, you could then list the game and edit the machine code in the REM statement and restart it. Defendr was the easiest, you changed the shape of the ship at the beginning of the code and it suddenly became invincible, because the collision detection no longer worked.

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: on a similar note ...

        Ah, that reminds me of the Commodore 64. A family friend had one and I'd go round every weekend. If I'm going to be honest now it's about 30+ years later, I'll admit it was mainly to see the Commodore 64, not them :) . Although I was nice enough to stop playing on their Commodore to actually talk to them. I'd sometimes by a Commodore mag with whatever tape was on the front that I wanted to play. However, I wasn't heavily into it so would go to just see them sometimes.

        Anyway. Enough of the back story. Martin, it was his Commodore, had read about using POKE commands to do cheats on a game. The only issue was to do it, you had to interrupt the game loading from tape. The way the article described it (and I was an idiot back then so never understood any of this), you had to touch the exposed board at the back of the Commodore where you'd normally put a cart. But, you had to touch specific pins otherwise it wouldn't work.

        I watched him do it, but as always not really paying attention. He got it to work. Nice. He then said he was going out to a friends. I told him I'd stay if that's OK (I cringe now at the memory of how many times I invited myself to events around theirs :) ).

        Anyway. While he was out I thought about the POKE commands. Again, being stupid back then I never bothered to look up the article, at least I don't recall looking for it. I just tried to do what he'd done. And then the Commodore turned off!

        Turn it back on then......erm, it's not coming back on....erm. Take the power out and put it back in. Nope, still not coming on......oh shit....I think I've broken his Commodore 64.....oh shit.

        I'm such an arse I went to the other room and just hung about a bit with his sister as went to school with her, and to make it not obvious I'd just broken the Commodore. Then said "I'm gonna head home now. Probably see you next weekend". Later that night I got the dreaded phone call. "Was the Commodore working when you left?". Oh yes, it was, why what's wrong? "Well it's not turning on".

        I never did confess to this day (well until now and other forums I've been on). I'm unaware if he ever knew or found out. I'm sure he suspected me of breaking it. Anyway. He sent it back to whoever it was and it got repaired, I believe free but I'm now thinking he might of actually had to pay for the repair. Although I do remember back then, without me breaking it, he did have to send it off a free times. So I think he'd had other issues with it before I killed it.

        Now I'm wiser I discovered I'd cause a short, at least I believe it was. THAT was the danger of doing that type of interrupt to get to do a POKE. If you hit the wrong pins you blew the board.


    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: on a similar note ...

      I've got two monitors on my desk here at work, and the one on the left will reset (ie go black for 5s) whenever either, the printer next to it starts up, or the heater behind me turns on. All are plugged into the same power cord (which is daisy-chained round the room in a most unsafe manner).

      I'm used to it by now.

      1. Giovani Tapini

        Re: on a similar note ...

        I also had the same where the machine behind the wall was an industrial pallet shrink-wrapping machine.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: on a similar note ...

      "Moving the computer's power plug to a three-pin socket on a different AC phase solved the issue. But there was a lot of "you're daft" comments wen I told them that the fridge was doing it."

      We had 3-phase power in a building and the phases supplied 3 lighting circuits and 3 ring mains. It sounds like overkill, but the large work unit we inhabited was originally meant to be about 6 separate units. When about a 1/3rd of the computers seemed to glitch ever now and then, we eventually traced it to an arc welder next door.

      1. CloudWrangler

        Re: on a similar note ...

        "Dirty" power supplies combined with badly shielded equipment can cause a lot of weird failures in electronics. My Dad used to create and present multi-slide projector shows, and in one venue, every morning show, all the projectors would reset to the first slide at around 10:30 am. Turns out, the equipment he was using had a bad ground, and the cafetaria of the venue would fire up it's warming ovens at around 10:30 to start preparing lunch...

    4. gnwiii

      Re: on a similar note ...

      At my work we had just received one of the original IBM PC's. The PC crashed every afternoon at 4PM, so I put a multimeter on the outlet. Sure enough, at 4PM the outlet dropped to 90 volts and the PC crashed. The problem was traced to faulty wiring for a huge ventilation fan controlled by a timer and set to go on a 4PM.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Ah, the carefree days of yore

    When companies would sell electrical equipment that behaved like a careless, angry teenager. Because back then, what was the issue with a large Gauss field ? The toaster didn't feel it, and your electricity bill was none the worse for wear.

    The advent of the PC did a lot in helping us find out how to properly design electrical equipment that stays discreet and doesn't warp up the magnetic field of the entire house trying to imitate the Sun. There may still be progress to be made, but when I look at the amount of things that are plugged in around the house and without any (detectable) interference whatsoever, I think we've come a long way.

    1. Kurgan Silver badge

      No interference?

      Today, thanks to low quality electronic devices (switching power supplies, led lamps, usb devices) or devices that generate interference by design like powerline ethernet, the whole RF spectrum from 0 to at least 150 MHz is flooded with noise.

      I am an ham radio operator, and I can tell you that if you live in an urban area, no ham band below 70 cm (430 MHz) is noise-free.

      On the bright side, I am happy to report that the LED street lamps that have been installed in Bologna, Italy, where I live, are properly shielded and have not increased the noise level at all.

      1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Re: No interference?

        Absolutely what Kurgan says. Only buy decent LED lightbulbs (i.e. Philips). The rest of them interfere with all sorts of things (possibly wireless, can't remember. I can only recall that the very pretty 'fake incandescent' LED clear lightbulbs from ASDA caused havoc). CFL bulbs often interfere with RF remotes, too.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: No interference?

          Cheap LED lights are likely to be false economy anyway - while the LEDs themselves might last for a decade, the electronics are often dead in a year. There are a number of stories on sites like Hackaday from people who take apart dead LED lights and repair the electronics.

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: No interference?

        Quality Chinese Engineering.

        If you have some time, take a few of those imported gems apart. You will have nightmares.

        I suggest starting with a Chinese power strip. Bonus points if it doesn't have a UL (or CE) mark.

        Even more bonus points if it does, but it's bogus.

        Safety comes in a distant second to profits.

        1. Alien8n

          Re: No interference?

          First engineering job the company made MOSFETs, diodes and IGBTs, these are the ones that have 3 prongs embedded into about a cm and a half square of plastic. In the failure analysis department they kept photos of all the fake chips that had been sent back by customers that had failed. 2 main failure causes in each case (the silicon was fairly resilient regardless of the source).

          1. Wires that crossed over one another joining the silicon to the prongs (so when encapsulated the wires were squashed together close enough that enough current would cause it to short).

          2. Wires bonded with gold to aluminium. A well known issue back then as gold - aluminium bonding deteriorates over time (look up purple plague). Fine for a couple of years, but would fail pretty much every lifetime test you could throw at it. Automotive standards set the lifetime of a MOSFET or IGBT to be 25 years.

          The company's best achievement? A chip that was certified for 6 months (the expected lifetime of the mission) that lasted about 2 years rolling about the surface of Mars.

        2. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: No interference?

          > If you have some time, take a few of those imported gems apart. You will have nightmares.

          Check out Big Clive on YouTube. He specializes in disassembling such stuff and pointing out the nightmares with great understated humor. He's a Manx-man with a very large beard.

          1. cat_mara

            Re: No interference?

            Ken Shirfiff's blog at is good for that sort of thing too. His teardown of USB chargers is sobering stuff, some of the units he looked at, even from those you'd consider reputable suppliers, had more ripple than a Mr. Whippy van. And some of the counterfeit eBay jobs were out-and-out fire hazards.

            1. Johndoe888

              Re: No interference?

              The two best USB chargers that he has tested came from Ikea (£8) and Poundland ( actually a £2 item ) !

              For anything that may go up in smoke he has his "Explosion containment pie dish" on hand.

              As for the LED lights that he has tested, 99% use a simple capacitive dropper rather than something that has the potential to cause interference.

          2. Johndoe888

            Re: No interference?

            Actually Big Clive is Scottish but lives on the Isle of Man

        3. TeeCee Gold badge

          Re: No interference?

          Bonus points if it doesn't have a UL (or CE) mark.

          I take it you've not heard of the "China Export" marking which, by sheer coincidence, is identical to the EU's CE mark...

          1. Tomato42

            Re: No interference?

            It's a misconception, there's no "China Export" mark:

            1. Killfalcon Silver badge

              Re: No interference?

              Is that not the joke?

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: No interference?

                It started as a joke, but became lore when many people didn't get that it was a joke. Hackaday recently did a piece on various symbols and marks that appear on electronics, and there was some discussion (in the comments, if memory serves) of "China Export".

      3. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        Ham interference?

        That's Bacon, isn't it?

        1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

          Re: Ham interference?

          Or what Cameron was accused of.

    2. Dave K

      Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

      Indeed, I remember in the 90s my dad always complaining when my mum vacced the house. Reason is that the vac being used was an old 70s Hoover, and right behind the study wall where my dad's PC sat was the staircase upstairs. Hence every time my mum vacced the stairs and the Hoover was at the same height as the monitor, the picture on the monitor would distort and start bouncing around due to the magnetic fields pumping through the wall.

      Think in the end my mum resorted to using the hose attachment for the stairs so the vac only ran at the top or bottom of the stairs, this solved things.

      1. DontFeedTheTrolls

        Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

        At least your Dad did the sensible thing and didn't buy your Mum a new Hoover for her Birthday to solve the problem. Trust me, not a smart present :O

        1. Evil_Goblin

          Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

          That's what I thought until the new cordless D***n V10 became a thing of domestic lust.

          My wife was genuinely excited to receive it this year, even though in previous years she threatened me with divorce if I ever dared contemplate buying her a "hoover" as a gift.

          Amazing what a large marketing budget can achieve.

          1. Sureo

            Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

            "cordless D***n V10"

            At least the V10 is fit for purpose, unlike the earlier models which were useless and astoundingly expensive.

            1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

              Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

              "At least the V10 is fit for purpose, unlike the earlier models which were useless and astoundingly expensive."

              - not mine. I bought my D**** DC25 "Animal" hoover for £10 off gumtree. Took the thing apart, cleaned it, put it back together and I can honestly say it's the best hooving device I've ever bought!

              All that was missing was the stair tool. I picked up one of those for nothing at a charity shop who oddly, refused to take any money for it.

              1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                Took the thing apart, cleaned it, put it back together

                IME that's the key with many modern vaccuuming devices - despite all their claims of "never clogging" they do actually gunk up very quickly. Found that with the two or three Dysons my mum's owned. We have a Vax which is very good when it's been cleaned up, but after two or three times around the house (we do have four children, but don't have any pets) it starts sounding a bit "strained" and doesn't pick up as well as you think it should. Hair wrapped around the brush bar doesn't help.

                There is something to be said for bagged cleaners without fancy "cyclone" separators and loads of air filters. Quite fond of Numatic "Henry", and we have a really cheap "Earlex" which sounds like a Vulcan and does benefit from a pipe on the air exit throwing excess dust out of a window, but (without a bag fitted) it just keeps sucking and sucking. Of course, neither of those has a rotating brush so not quite so good for carpets...


                1. Martin-73 Silver badge

                  Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                  One of the worst issues with the D***n uprights of yore was the use of an unshielded bearing on the beater bar. In the dust path. After a few months, the d***n would run as rough as a badger's ar*e. Replacing with shielded bearings (skateboard ones fit, more recently fidget spinners are a good source) has recovered this for 2 yrs now

                2. the hatter

                  Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                  We are a two-dyson household. Mine (upright) has done sterling service for years, including not infrequent uses where I should use a shop vac. Mine benefits from an (easy) stripdown and cleanout every year or two. OH's cylinder one properly died, but as most of the cost seems to be mechanical design, replacing the whole motor cost me I think £25 (turns out I could just have replaced a brush, for even less), a couple of quid for a long enough driver (was probably torx, and too narrow a path to use an extender bar) and pretty much minutes to disassemble. Got a proper clean at that point too, which certainly did it no harm.

                  More recently, I was impressed by their adverts, and what they didn't say. Finally dawned on me that 'cordless is so good we no longer make corded' is another way of saying 'the EU can't police our motor power (whose methodology we disagree with) if we're drawing it from a battery'.

                  1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                    Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                    'the EU can't police our motor power (whose methodology we disagree with) if we're drawing it from a battery'

                    Battery vacuums just show how specious the arguments against limiting power are. It's all about efficiency. There's no way you could sensibly plug a 1kW motor into a portable battery-powered vacuum.


                3. FIA Silver badge

                  Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                  IME that's the key with many modern vaccuuming devices - despite all their claims of "never clogging" they do actually gunk up very quickly.

                  It's handy to know if you want a cheap Dyson, they're quite clear about it in the instructions, empty the thing before the fill line or it'll just back up into the filter.

                  find a cordless one one ebay that 'works for a few seconds' and you can almost guarantee a filter clean will restore it to health.

                  Or if not, that thin bloke from off of old people adverts on the telly has re-invented the bagged hoover for some reason.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                    I have an old secondhand Kirby G5. Weighs a TON - enough to have (and need!) powered drive. But it does a great job, and if it starts having any trouble, just pop off the (wooden!) brush wheel and cut off the hair wrapped around it. Oh, and has a stack of attachments - carpet shampooer, hardwood polisher, etc.

                    Kirby door-to-door sales folks keep trying to sell us a new one. Why would we pay $1000 for a new Kirby when the old one works so well?

                4. Andrew Newstead

                  Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                  Does it do the howl?

        2. Andy Non Silver badge

          Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

          As birthday presents go, a new Hoover sucks.

          1. Alister

            Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

            As birthday presents go, a new Hoover sucks.

            I've given that an upvote, but I really, really struggled not to downvote it... :)

          2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

            Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

            But nothing sucks like a VAX...

            1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

              Re: nothing sucks like a VAX

              Actually, they were pretty dam' good as a Production machine.

              Right up until the point you tried to script anything.

              1. cat_mara

                Re: nothing sucks like a VAX

                What, no love for DCL then?

                OK, "love" is a bit strong. Does "grudging toleration" count? Or "thank Christ it's not DOS batch language"? The quoting rules were a scrote though. And having to start every line with a $ sign. And...

                Mines the one with the big orange "Digital Command Language Quick Reference" ring binder in the pocket...

            2. Alistair

              Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

              Uncle Slacky:

              Let me introduce you to the HP V class hardware. Specifically the V2600. 9 fans. 9 10" fans. Now they blew *out* the back side of the box. You just plain didn't *stand* behind that when it started up. And at least one tech I know was inadvertently sucked into the front panel for a couple of moments. Since they (four of them) were stacked in two piles in an open area of the DC, we referred to them as the raincoat dryers.

              Having worked with PDP-11/720's (which oddly, are similar in size and shape) I can tell you, the HPUX outsucked the VAX in a big way.

              1. hmv

                Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                You do know there's a vacuum cleaner called a VAX don't you?

                A long time ago, the two companies producing VAXen[0], met and agreed that nobody was dumb enough to mistake one for the other. Except in the case of the joke "Nothing sucks like a VAX".

                0: Except I'm not sure anyone ever referred to multiple VAX vacuum cleaners as "VAXen".

            3. Cynic_999

              Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

              Microsoft built a vacuum cleaner once. It was the only product it made that didn't suck ...

        3. PyroBrit

          Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

          I learnt the hard way when I bought my future wife a set of Jump leads for her car as a christmas present. 20 years later and the story is repeated to family and friends with much amusement.

          The leads are still going strong too.

          1. Mr Army

            Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

            It does depend on your Wie, Mine is very practically minded, this year she got a Stihl brushcutter and loves it. 2 years ago I bought her a concrete mixer which came in component form and she sat in the lounge on Christmas day and assembled it herself.

            1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

              You, sir, have hit the marital jackpot.

              Mine drives a Jeep Wrangler with a stick shift.

              1. Is It Me

                Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                For a right pondian "stick" is still the default, automatic cars are becoming more common though.

                I don't know about the rules on the left side of the pond, but here if you pass your test on an automatic you can only drive an automatic. These means that well over 90% of people learn on a "stick"/manual gearbox.

                1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                  Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                  "These means that well over 90% of people learn on a "stick"/manual gearbox."

                  Yes, but if we are all driving electric cars by 2030 then there are a lot of people learning to drive now with a manual gearbox who will never actually drive such a beast after they pass their test.

              2. Adam 1

                Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                Drives a Jeep.... Don't judge too quickly. Those jump leads might come in handy. (Although a tow strap is another gift idea)

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

              Presents for the wife so far include:

              A Thundercats sword (lights up, metal, heavy but blunt)

              An axe (incredibly sharp, wrapping paper dotted with blood)

              A chainsaw (which was assembled and then fired up - briefly - in the house on Christmas Day)

              Lego. So much Lego.

              1. Hollerithevo

                Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                @Chris 125, if you two ever divorce, send her my way. My type of gal!

            3. disgruntled yank

              Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

              Wait, what? How big are a) the concrete mixer, and b) the doors in and out of your lounge?

              1. Mr Army

                Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore


                One of these

                1. disgruntled yank

                  Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

                  Thanks. It probably won't make it onto any wish lists in our family. It is surprisingly small.

            4. TomPhan

              Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

              How did you get it out of the lounge?

            5. Rol

              Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

              I can't afford a wife of my own, but would gladly rent her off you for light maintenance and diy tasks.

            6. Montreal Sean

              Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

              @Mr Army

              Have you angered your wife?

              It almost sounds like she's collecting the tools required to dispose of a body...

          2. Andytug

            Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

            If she had complained you should of course have pleaded with her not to start anything......

        4. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

          The roomba I bought for the parents when they reached the stage where neither could use a hoover was definitely a welcome present.

          So much appreciated I bought one for myself a few months later, despite not having their excuse.

          1. Montreal Sean

            Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

            My wife was a little unsure about the Roomba I bought her, and then she tried it out.

            She was so happy with the way it vacuumed our wood floors that she then ordered an iRobot Bravaa to wash the floors.

            A year later and we now own 2 Roombas and 2 Bravaas, and they do a much better job than any of our cleaning ladies ever did.

        5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

          "Trust me, not a smart present :O"

          Tell us more.

      2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

        My wife still insists on the TV being off while vaccuming, even though it's not a CRT.

    3. disgruntled yank

      Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

      Perhaps twenty years ago, the local newspaper ran an article about power quality. A representative of the local electric utility said that now everyone had devices to tell them just how irregular their power had always been.

    4. Elfoad Regfoad

      Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

      What happened to the good old days of wrapping ferrite rings around power cords and cables?

      1. Trixr

        Re: Ah, the carefree days of yore

        Or the good-old days (not) of dad getting off his fat arse and doing the upstairs vacuuming himself rather than whinging at his wife. Solves both problems at once: grubby floors, monitor interference (since you're not looking at it).

  3. AndyS

    Wind tunnel turbulence

    I knew a guy who had a student doing some all-night runs in a laminar flow wind-tunnel.

    The tests would start in the evening and run smoothly for a few hours, after which (at around 10pm) the flow would unexpectedly transition to turbulent, ruining the rest of the night's results.

    The supervisor eventually sat with the student to see what was going on. The tests were set up, the tunnel started, all good. A few hours past, dinner was eaten, and boredom set in. That's when the student turned on the (loud, heavy-rock) stereo system...

  4. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    A company for whom I worked a good few years back got into selling Toshiba Tosdic Distributed Control Systems (DCS). We'd put one in for a water company on their treatment works (water or poo - can't remember).

    We had a few callouts that things were occasionally operating when they shouldn't. Looked like operator errors but they were adamant not.

    Long story short, the truth eventually dawned - literally.

    The Tosdic DCS consoles had an early kind of touchscreen, which was a lattice of IR beams across the front of a normal CRT. At a certain time of day, the sun shone through some high level windows in the control room. If the timing was perfect the poor IT lattice got confused and generated a teensy bit of garbage, but only if it was a fine and sunny morn.

    A couple of sheets or printer paper taped over the offending windows sorted it until a more aesthetic solution could be fitted.

    1. Niall Mac Caughey

      Back in the 90s I got the job of building a rather substantial set of studios for a radio station. It was fun, but about 18 months some of the on-air Talent started a rumour that the early eighteenth century building was haunted. This is fair game, it's their job to get the place talked about, but there was a genuine issue behind it.

      Around about 18:00 every day the lights in the main studio would slowly dim to off and then climb back to full brightness and the process would repeat. Initially I applied the standard logic to technical complaints from Talent, i.e. they were making it up to cover the fact that they were doing something stupid. Once I had seen it for myself I had to exercise my lazy grey cells, but after a while, just like the touch screens, it dawned on me.

      One of the directors had insisted - late in the day - that the studios be fitted with remotely controlled lighting. Of course by that stage of the project I had zero wiggle-room in the budget, so I used cheap domestic kit which had infra-red remote controls. It was autumn and at tea-time the evening sun shone through the studio windows at just the right angle to catch the IR receivers. It hadn't happened the previous autumn as there had been a complete streetscape blocking the low sun, but an old factory had recently been demolished leaving a narrow gap in just the right place.

      Can't we have a lightbulb icon for those rare occasions that we get things right?

      1. Daedalus

        Can't we have a lightbulb icon for those rare occasions that we get things right?

        Sorry, you're only allowed the "Why didn't we think of this before?" facepalm.

      2. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Initially I applied the standard logic to technical complaints from Talent, i.e. they were making it up to cover the fact that they were doing something stupid

        Nice studios - ours didn't have any outside windows at all and could be very gloomy as a result.

        All I had to deal with was "talent" desperately hiding what they had just done, the classic being one who had pre-recorded his very last show for the station, but on his last live show decided (against all the rules) to take a bottle of cider - kindly sent in by a fan - into the studio. The studio with our almost brand-new, custom-built desk. As is probably obvious, the best part of a pint of cider ended up in the desk. Or in one half of it, anyway (the controls were split with a script space in the middle), putting two of the three microphones (including the main presenter mic) and two of the three CD players out of action (from memory - it was about 20 years ago). The playout system was fine, but it had little music on it and was mainly used for adverts, jingles etc.

        Said talent didn't call the pager at 8pm, when the accident happened, but struggled through the rest of his show. At 10pm the next bloke did call the pager and steadfastly refused to swap to the "spare" studio - being one of only two people in the building at that point, it would have meant a bit of running between the two studios (a distance of all of 5m, but two airlocks with very heavy doors) to "offer" and "accept" on the switcher.

        Fortunately, my boss was practical about these things. In specifying the desk, not only had he gone for one with a separate electronics pod, safely out of the way in a nearby rack, but the channels had been stripped right down to gain, pre-fade, fader and a start switch (where appropriate). All the switches were fully sealed, the gains and faders controlled VCAs and although the Penny & Giles conductive plastic fader itself wasn't sealed, it's a brilliantly easy design to dismantle and run under the tap. I replaced a couple of wipers, that's all, but had to work around the 10pm bloke who still refused to swap, despite me being there to push one of the buttons, because it would have meant packing up his box of bits and carrying it next-door.

        Oh, and the desk structure included "vent" holes, so the cider had dropped straight out of the bottom of the thing onto the perp's trousers :-)


        1. Chairman of the Bored

          Radio Talent?

          My college had an outstanding radio station, courtesy of some serious alumni connections and $. Our recording studio and broadcast studio were physically separate but connected through some nice, low noise analog links.

          Of course when I'm doing an actual live broadcast from the big studio these links died somehow, transmitting nothing but RF hash and 20V p-p or so of 60Hz ground loop goodness.

          So in utter desperation we ran audio over 100' of extension cords up a hallway to get the show on air. The sound quality was absolute pants, just unbelievably awful.

          But we had some people comment that "we really captured that warm tube distortion" and "best production work yet". Even from the band's rather pathetic groupies. WTF, over?

    2. Hollerithevo

      I think not

      Sir or Madam, I put it to you that you are not, in fact, the inventor of the marmite laser.

  5. Matt Bradley

    Similar story

    Similar story. Apple iMac; small flat; tumble dryer.

    1. Kubla Cant

      Re: Similar story

      Similar but different story. PDP/11; River Thames; destroyer.

      We had offices on the North bank of the Thames. Visiting warships would moor alongside HMS Belfast opposite. When preparing to sail they would test their radar.

      1. Paul Cooper

        Re: Similar story

        I can top that one - in 1987, I was part of a team doing a physics experiment on the Greenland ice cap. We were operating round DYE 3, which at the time was still operating one of the cold war early warning radars. Our job was to measure the topography of the rock beneath the ice using a 300 MHz radar (ice is pretty much transparent at that wavelength). The early warning radar was nowhere near our frequency - but we still suffered from MASSIVE interference effects; in particular, the A-D component we were using triggered at the wrong point several times during an acquisition cycle - fortunately, always at the same point, so I could post-process the data to correct it! And there were innumerable other effects; so much so that we had to line the electronics vehicle with tinfoil to get anything going at all. And the interior of the instrument caboose got incredibly hot - you wouldn't think that getting too hot would be a problem in Greenland, but it was! We operated up to 5 km from the base, and still suffered all sorts of strange interference effects.

        The early warning radar did have waveguides the size of heating ducts, and there were parts of the platform that were out of bounds while it was operating; lead underwear wouldn't have saved you!

        1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

          Re: Similar story

          Ah yes, a relative had a similar story from when he got started with a geo-surveying outfit.

          One of his earliest jobs with them was up the north east where there's some large radar installations - and they were a few fields away. Anyway, they rocked up with a load of trucks of gear and started to set up camp - and were quickly visited by military people checking up on what a bunch of blokes with technical looking kit were up to in close proximity to a military site ...

          After that was sorted, they started setting up and found that the radars were crashing the computers - so they had to up sticks and move to the other side of a hill to shield them from the radars.

          One I;ve personally had was a customer who made drum closures - the big snap-fit bands that hold lids onto oil drums. Their factory contained a number of powerful spot welding machines - and for a short time we were convinced that this was the problem corrupting their floppy disks. Moving the machine to the office didn't fix it though - and it tested perfectly on my test bench.

          Eventually we twigged ... Apple had pictures in the brochures showing an Apple II with two floppy drives on top, and a monitor on top of that - and that's what the customer had done. However, unlike the Apple monitor, the one they had didn't have magnetic screening in the base to allow it to sit on top fo floppy drives without causing problems.

          1. Alister

            Re: Similar story

            Now you've reminded me, there used to be a company - can't remember the name now, but a well known purveyor of computer peripherals - who sold a set of floppy disk holders (5 1/4 natch) which were designed... designed! to fit over a CRT monitor like a pair of saddlebags, with the floppies each side of the screen!

            I wonder how many people thought that was a good idea...

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Similar story

              "who sold a set of floppy disk holders (5 1/4 natch) which were designed... designed! to fit over a CRT monitor like a pair of saddlebags, with the floppies each side of the screen!"

              I saw similar with speakers. The original design used shielded speakers of course. The cheap knock versions were, well, cheap knock offs with no shielding.

          2. swm

            Re: Similar story

            I heard about a tow truck company with old-fashioned carburetor that had a business of towing cars with electronic ignitions out of range of a military radar set.

            1. Yes Me Silver badge

              Re: Similar story

              My car used to conk out on very cold days when driving past the airport on the way to work. Cue paranoid thoughts about radar screwing up the electronics. (It was the first car I'd had with even an elementary on-board computer.) In the end it turned out to be a faulty temperature sensor that just happened to warm up enough to trigger the fault condition at that distance from home. It was surprisingly consistent, within a few hundred metres.

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Similar story

            "didn't have magnetic screening in the base to allow it to sit on top fo floppy drives without causing problems."

            I've seen the opposite effect - disk drive (presumabl) affecting the monitor. We had two models of Zilogs, each with the console monitor sitting on top of the box. One model was OK but the display on a monitor atop the other would always have a slight shimmy.

  6. Saruman the White Silver badge

    When I was an undergrad, I spent a year working for Link-Miles (the old flight simulator manufacturer) down on the South Coast of Blighty. I was actually working in the business support section of the company, and my manager had a Commodore PET computer - the more expensive business-class model. This was used to generate various reports for the PHBs.

    Some of these reports required over-night runs, which most of the time was not an issue. However once or twice a week we would come in on the morning and find the computer frozen with the report job only partially done. Much head-scratching occurred, and I eventually put together a small program (almost embarrassingly simple) which we could use to work out when the computer was freezing. To our surprise it was at almost the same time every night - about 2:00 in the morning. Cue more head-scratching for the next couple of days, until someone realised that there was a medium-engineering company next door. Light-bulb moment! A quick trip over resulted in us finding that: (a) they had an electrically-powered drop-hammer on the premises, (b) they tended to use it during off-peak hours to save money, and (3) they where currently using it two or three times a week in the early hours of the morning.

    It turned out that the drop-hammer was generating voltage drop-outs on the primary mains supply which was serious upsetting the CPU of our PET computer, hence the lock-ups. The subsequent installation of a UPS to regulate the voltage saw the problems magically disappear.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      A UPS is a must for computer equipment wherever you are. You never know when there will be a perturbation in power regulation, a spike or a micro-cut.

      I always buy the best equipment I can afford, so I'd much rather that equipment function without any unnecessary bad surprises.

      1. davenewman

        The only time I bought anything to regulate the power supply was in Kenya in the 1980s. There weren't many long power cuts, but there were twice weekly drop outs of a few seconds. A voltage stabiliser covered those seconds. As the supply voltage went down, the slider on the transformer moved to keep up.

      2. Saruman the White Silver badge

        I fully agree - now. But in the early 80's (I think this was about 1983) it was not on the forefront of anyone's mind.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "A UPS is a must for computer equipment wherever you are."

        I mentioned Zilogs (incidentally the only kit I've ever come across running Sys III Unix) in another comment. There was a UPS somewhere in the depths of the building which supplied a set of outlets in the computer room. A big thunderstorm took out the UPS (computers not damaged). The non-UPS circuits were undamaged and we had to run off those for months waiting for the interrupted uninterruptible power supply to be repaired.

  7. steveie_b


    Getting lots of memories reading the comments here....

    Over the years high-frequency moulding machines and lift switching gear has caused problems with PC's.

    Singer Link-Miles.....ah on the South Coast .. One particular story I remember involved a flight crew not paying attention during their training on the simulator and then having a VERY expensive accident with the real thing......

    ...But the one that got me thinking was the Olivetti PC's...was it the M24 .. that were ever so slightly non-standard.......

    1. Trygve Henriksen

      Re: Memories

      Was there ever an Olivetti that was 'standard'?

      I never dealt with the M24, but the M380... AAAAARGH!

      The PSU would die after 2 years. The insulation on a coil melted and it shorted out, if I remember correctly.

      And the memory expansion cards...

      Those long, horrible cards with 16 sockets. And the yard-long 'configuration card you used to find out the switch settings.

      The fact that the keyboard connector was a D9 connector was just a fun, quirk.

      (St506 drives in a 1990s PC, though... not so fun)

      1. Alien8n

        Re: Memories

        When I switched to optical engineering we had a load of Compaq PIII 500s that would now and then fail due to faulty power supplies. Ironically I knew the exact cause of the failure as the issue was with the power rail chips, the PIII 500s maxed out the capabilities of the MOSFETs in the power supply that my previous company made. At the time the replacement MOSFETs that could handle the power requirements were still in development. This was the same chip that kept failing in one of the test rigs we had, the solution was to replace it with the development chip.

      2. Down not across

        Re: Memories

        Was there ever an Olivetti that was 'standard'?

        I never dealt with the M24, but the M380... AAAAARGH!

        I did like the cool (especially at the time) dot matrix LCD POST display the M380 (XP something...XP9 perhaps) had.

    2. Alien8n

      Re: Memories

      I had the pleasure of flight testing a new simulator at Gatwick that was about to be shipped out to Seattle. 737 cockpit if I remember correctly. That was when I learned that planes are actually incredibly easy to fly given the right weather conditions. Given just a few hours I was able to land the simulator without any issues, and also found out that every plane could, even back then, be programmed to fly completely computer controlled without any human intervention. The only reason they didn't was that people still prefer a real person to be handling the take-off and landing (although seeing how well autonomous cars are doing that's probably not a bad thing)

      1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        Re: Memories

        According to my dad who captained both 727s and 737s, even the 727 had this capability.

        1. Dabooka

          Re: Memories


          I thought the 727s had a three man crew with Flight Engineer, surely any level of autonomous landing would've involved a great deal of manual 'support and intervention'?

          That's not to say none were upgraded of course, but I assume even the later versions wouldn't have been fully autonomous landers?

          Just curious. :-)

          1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

            Re: Memories

            As far as I know, it had that capacity from the get-go. I've seen videos and corporate blurb from its launch date to that effect too.

            And having a full crew just meant you had three people twiddling their thumbs, rather than two :)

            However, it was essentially never used.

            That is, it had the technical capacity to land itself, but the crew typically only landed it manually.

            Interestingly, I saw somewhere the other day that apparently, even on current kit, full auto-landing is only used in conditions of zero visibility. Counter-intuitive at first blush, but then I guess it makes sense -- humans get disoriented in such.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Memories

              "even on current kit, full auto-landing is only used in conditions of zero visibility"

              Back when BA used Tridents and the like on the Heathrow/Aldergrove shuttle one of the captains could be fairly chatty over the PA. On one flight there was a party of school kids on board who had been given a tour of the cockpit before take-off. Immediately after landing in poor visibility is voice came over the PA, more or less continuing the earlier tour commentary "And you've just had an automated landing too".

              BTW I always preferred travelling in the rear-engined planes, 1-11s rather than Tridents. They were so much quieter.

              1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

                Re: Memories

                > rear-engined planes

                Me too, but more for the way they handled -- felt more like being in a (fun) aeroplane than on a bus. Eg 727 vs 737.

              2. Milton

                "rear-engined planes"

                I always preferred travelling in the rear-engined planes, 1-11s rather than Tridents. They were so much quieter.

                Nitpicky, but the Trident was a rear-engined plane, only with three engines rather than the two of the BAC111.

                I remember Trident well from my youth: could have been a world-beater, but as usual it was screwed up by imbecile British politicians, with a helping hand from BEA/BOAC (who together also managed to bugger up the chances of the even better VC-10, which was a fab plane to fly in). Post-childhood, I got periodically shuttled around facing backwards in VC-10s, and its hot'n'high performance made for some exciting takeoffs if the crabair crew were in the mood. Does the VC-10 still hold the record for fastest subsonic airliner transit across the Atlantic?

                Anyway, I agree rear engines were a boon, but those were the days of noisy engines: Conways were loud and a bit smoky ISTR.

                (All time favourite: Lockheed L1011. Did a few transatlantic flights in the 80s and I fell in love with the Tristar.)

        2. -tim

          Re: Memories

          The 727 had auto land capability for ILS approaches. My father designed part of that system. Autoland is a bit of an overstatement. It predated the RNAV systems but If I remember correctly it could change altitude and course over a VOR transmitter and then follow an ILS approach while adjusting the throttles. It couldn't do the landing flair and probably couldn't even adjust the flaps. It could not lower the landing gear (just like the shuttles computer) or apply the brakes so its use is limited to making bad weather approaches a bit easier for the flight crew.

      2. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

        Re: Memories

        Aircraft autopilot is actually an almost trivial task since it's going to be flown in known conditions where ATC (normally) takes care of avoiding banging you into another aircraft. It would always be monitored anyway, so the pilots would not allow it to (for example) autoland on an obviously blocked runway without ATC permission to land. And for that autolanding, it doesn't have to try and figure out where the runway is by analysing pictures from a camera - there's an expensive, complicated, and continuously monitored system transmitting a radio signal for it to follow. Or more recently, a GPS system with ground augmentation and an accurately placed runway in the database.

        You don't generally cyclists, animals, drunk pedestrians (or worse, ones glued to their mobile devices), etc once you get above a few feet off the ground - and security usually keeps them all off the runways.

        In contract, the "self driving car" has a task several orders of magnitude greater in complexity.

      3. Cynic_999

        Re: Memories

        The main reason for having a human pilot is to handle the aircraft when something goes wrong. Autopilots are great at controlling a fully functioning aircraft, and can do so better than a human pilot. But are not designed to react correctly to a myriad of abnormal situations which frequently occur in a machine as complex as a modern airliner - and which are pretty much a non-event if there is a human present to assess and react, but which would be completely beyond the capabilities of an autopilot.

        1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

          Re: Memories

          Autopilots are great at controlling a fully functioning aircraft, and can do so better than a human pilot. But are not designed to react correctly to a myriad of abnormal situations which ...

          I recall watching a program on the gogglebox some years ago that was talking about the issues faced by pilots when "something's broken". For example, in the Sioux City DC10 incident, the pilots ended up flying he aircraft with just the two remaining engines - they were fortunate in having a training captain on-board who managed this for them and took some of the pressure off the situation.

          Anyway, modern airliners can use alternatives to the traditional control surfaces - eg some of them use spoilers instead of the ailerons. There has been talk of training computers to use "whatever is working" - and I recall them saying that some simulator trials had shown that the computers would often manage to fly an aircraft that the pilots couldn't fly.

      4. Roq D. Kasba

        Re: Memories

        There's a classic aviation joke that a cockpit could be staffed by a pilot and a dog. The dog is there to stop anyone from touching the controls, the pilot is there to feed the dog.

        1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Dog in the cockpit

          Dad has a funny story about the time Australia introduced mandatory photo-ID for all aircrew, way back when (late 60s? early 70s?).

          Lots of rolling of eyes and huffing. What pointless paranoid faff! And one of his pilot mates expressed what he thought of it by taking a photo of his german shepherd wearing sunglasses and pilot hat, and using that as his photo-ID.

          He retired ~20yrs later, having used that photo the whole time, and not once anybody noticing.

  8. OGShakes


    My favourite memory was of the systems in a plant hire company with offices that are still to this day a bunch of porter cabins. They started to have some weird network issues from time to time that we could not fix until we traced the network cables through a hole in the floor in to rats nest of wires that contained a genuine rats nest. A quick rewire so all the network cabling was in trunking inside the cabin, not under it, and everything was fine. As far as I am aware, no one was brave enough to remove the old cabling from under the cabin, so the rats are likely still living there.

    1. BebopWeBop
      IT Angle

      Re: Rats!

      A company I occasionally worked for as a student during holidays had a staff terrier (small, enthusiastic, hairy, 4 legs, worked for nuts (dog) and a cleared small spaces). Old buildings, seats seem to be prepared to at least try everything once, so if a power cable did not get them, 'Martha' did.

      No real IT component, although I did code up their accounting system in 'Basic' - ahh the year of modules getting comments in different styles (we had 'Nazi' - 'YOU Vill report inconsistency', 'TREK - 'beam me up accents' - and everything a slightly bored 18 year old who had found out about documentation could think of or had seen on TV the night before. All ran on a PET - for about 12 years I believe - but never suffered from a rat outage that I know of .)

  9. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Reminds me of a very similar issie in a previous life / company we supplied AV PCs that went into pubs, clubs and so on. In one of these clubs within a shopping complex the supplied PC just kept failing with disk errors and this problem kept reoccuring even with new replacement systems. We even tested one replacement system in the office for three weeks before deploying it to site at which point it failed with data errors within a couple of days. After too many site visits we lucked out and saw an electrician working on the site. It turned out that the particular innocuous looking pillar, there were others that looked the same, that the DJ console was built around, and the PC was sat next to, had the three phase supply for the complex running through it and with the short distance and inadequate shielding the data on the hard disk was being corrupted. We moved and rewired the PC to a different cupboard and this stopped the problem.

  10. Chairman of the Bored

    Maybe it just needs to know where it is

    I went to my mom's place of employment to help troubleshoot a printing problem involving a Macintosh, a Laserwriter, and an AppleTalk network. Late 80's sometime.

    'twas the dreaded "Laserwriter not found" error.

    After I admitted defeat, a really nice secretary came over and shocked us by saying, "I can fix it!" Without another word she picks up the mac by the built in handle, points the monitor towards the printer and says with authority, "Can't find it?

    It's right f$cking there." Sorted.

    1. DuchessofDukeStreet

      Re: Maybe it just needs to know where it is

      And did it then know where to find it?

      1. Chairman of the Bored

        Re: Maybe it just needs to know where it is

        Absolutely! And from them on all anyone had to do was grasp the handle and the net would work. Absolutely could not figure that out, the connections were not intermittent.

        Actually I've got a piece of test equipment on my bench right now that did not start working properly until a circuit board was egregiously destroyed in front of it. No explanation available!

  11. Alien8n


    Reminds me, there was an excellent Mythbusters episode that looked at the myth of phones being able to crash planes, hence why mobile phones have an airplane mode. They actually came to 2 conclusions:

    1. Mobile phones generated enough EM interference that they could in fact knock out a plane's navigation systems. If the cabling in the plane was unshielded.

    2. Modern planes are so well shielded this is not a problem.

    So the no phones rule is more to do with historical issues with older models of planes than new, but given how many old planes are still in circulation it's a "better safe than sorry" approach.

    1. Giovani Tapini

      Re: Mythbusters

      I would have assumed, although I have zero education to back this up, that an unshielded aircraft would be just as likely to fall out of the sky in a good solar storm, regardless of phone wielding sociopaths...

      1. Alien8n

        Re: Mythbusters

        Not really, remember that most older planes were still metal shells, so would be naturally shielded (to a degree) from external interference. The issue is more the interior shielding.

        Almost as good as the episode when they tried to use a mobile phone to ignite petrol (testing the mobile phone causing petrol station fires myth). Turns out it's not the phone that causes the fires, it's the constantly getting in and out of the car while the fuel is being pumped, building up static electricity. Not an issue for the UK as you have to hold the handle while pumping. However, some UK pumps were found to be affected by mobile phone signals, resulting in inaccurate readings on volume.

        Made the attempt by the Glasgow bomber all the more ridiculous. His plan? Doused the back seat of a car in petrol, added calor gas cylinders and a mobile phone. The idea being that he'd ring the mobile phone, which would ignite the fuel vapour and then make the gas cylinders explode. Except...

        Mobile phones are not detonators in themselves, you'd have to do some serious damage to the battery first in order to make it spark when you rang it, which more than likely would have made the phone unusable anyway. The mix of fuel vapour to oxygen in the car was wrong, so it couldn't ignite. And finally, calor gas cylinders have a relief valve, so in the event of pressure from heat build up it trips the relief valve stopping the cylinder from exploding. Instead they just let out a stream of gas, so instead of a bomb you have an uncontrolled flame thrower.

        1. Wenlocke

          Re: Mythbusters

          Or in his case, an uncontrolled glaswegian proudly putting the boot in. I suspect being on fire just added to the indignity.

        2. Cynic_999

          Re: Mythbusters

          One danger with using a mobile phone while refuelling is if you drop it after having spilt a little petrol on the ground. The phone signals will not ignite petrol, but the spark as the battery disconnects when the phone hits the concrete certainly can.

      2. BebopWeBop

        Re: Mythbusters

        The upside of course being that aircraft of that vintage typical (OK I am sure someone who knows better than I - not difficult) had no smart auto controllers and a real pilot (TM) in charge.

        1. Alien8n

          Re: Mythbusters

          That as well, back then most transistors were valve affairs as well so everything tended to be just straight mechanicals. Pilots also tended to be trained to fly by sight as well in case of equipment failure.

          1. G.Y.

            WHAT? Re: Mythbusters

            "most transistors were valve affairs " -- ???

            1. Alien8n

              Re: WHAT? Mythbusters

              Take apart a radio from before the miniaturised transistor was invented. Lots of valves in that. I'm talking about the big bulb like valves here, not the kinds that direct water flow. In fact you could also take apart some earlier audio amplifiers, same thing. Or what did you think they used before silicon?

              1. Down not across

                Re: WHAT? Mythbusters

                Take apart a radio from before the miniaturised transistor was invented. Lots of valves in that.


                Yeah but valve != transistor. The schematic is quite different depending if you use valves or transistors even if the final functionality of the circuit is same.


                1. Alien8n

                  Re: WHAT? Mythbusters

                  I keep forgetting that El Reg is the home of Pedantry (although it still has some way to go to reach the epitome of Pedantry that was AFP).

                  Okay, prior to the invention of transistors most "electronics" consisted of convoluted vacuum tube valve affairs whose functions were later replaced by transistors.

              2. Morrie Wyatt

                Re: WHAT? Mythbusters

                Radios before transistors were valve radios (thermionic valve radios to be more precise). They used a vibrator (no, not that kind) where a solenoid would open the contacts supplying power to its own coil. (A bit like an automotive turn signal flasher can on crystal meth.) The resulting intermittent power would provide pseudo AC power to step-up transformers to generate the necessary high voltages to run the valves. There were no transistors in those radios. Triodes and Pentodes, not transistors.

                (The inverter circuitry sometimes had its own box, hidden in the engine bay to keep noise (electrical and acoustic) well away from the radio itself.)

                There were portable (a loosely defined term at best) that ran on valves, powered usually from lantern sized dry cell batteries.

                Then came the transistor, allowing a radio that was much smaller and ran on far safer voltages.

                "Or what did you think they used before silicon?"

                Germanium. (Well you did ask.)

                Germanium transistors were what you usually found in early transistor radios. Silicon transistors came along later.

    2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      Re: Mythbusters

      The issue is not with phones which are functioning normally. The issue is the potential for phones to function abnormally. Say, by being bumped, or dropped, etc. "Which never happens..."

      Examples of how slight changes can have big effects:

      1/ Chap 50+m across the road from me has a second-hand hand-held belt-sander which looks a bit battered but works fine. When he switches it on, every wifi signal for 100+m gets wiped.

      2/ Yonks ago, Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne got periodically shut down by this massive radar jammer. Just wiped the radar, this humongous shrieking "scream" of low-frequency light. Stronger than the military jammers. And very intermittent and very random. They finally got a fix on it, everyone turned up mob-handed and loaded for bear.

      It was a clothesline.

      Specifically, a Hill's Hoist, which one of the kids had swung around on and bent one of the arms a bit. And when a good wind blew at just the right angle, the arm would flex.

      That was enough to create a radar jammer so strong it stuffed heavy-duty ground installations.

      So yeah, switch the bloody phones off on takeoff&landing unless you've carried it in cottonwool its whole life.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mythbusters

        "That was enough to create a radar jammer so strong"

        I am sure some sort of witchcraft was involved in this world of yours.

        1. 404

          Re: Mythbusters

          Nah, even the fucking wind tries to kill you in Australia...


    3. Cynic_999

      Re: Mythbusters


      2. Modern planes are so well shielded this is not a problem.


      Except that the effectiveness of the shielding is not something that is tested in pre-flight checks (or even in most maintenance checks). With modern fly-by-wire aircraft the interference could do more than just affect the navigation system.

      So while you may be happy to bet your life on the fact that there are no missing bonding wires or shielding panels, I prefer to be incommunicado for the 15 minutes or so where the aircraft is close enough to the ground that the flight crew may not be able to deal with an RFI induced problem.

    4. swm

      Re: Mythbusters

      The real reason for no cell phones on aircraft is that, in flight, they hit too many cell towers and use up too many channels. The rule is from the FCC not the airlines.

      1. Yes Me Silver badge

        Re: Mythbusters

        Not just the FCC. Cell phone operators the world over hate the idea of a batch of 100+ mobile phones moving at 1000km/hr, with a weak signal to boot. The impact on the base stations being overflown would be horrendous.

        I think that airliners have been pretty safe against RFI since at least the 777 came out.

        On the other hand, I'd feel happier if airport security checked that each mobile phone really was a mobile phone, just like they used to check if your laptop really was a laptop by making you boot it up.

        1. Killfalcon Silver badge

          Re: Mythbusters

          A while back (2010 or so), and this is probably the single nerdiest thing I've ever done, I used to play EVE Online using a 3G dongle. Only for a short while waiting for proper internet, but, well, it's an MMO. They pay all the bandwidth costs too, so they make them remarkably low-traffic in normal use and I used hardly any data at all.

          Anyway, every now and then, I'd get booted because it lost internet connection for a few milliseconds, and the game was incredibly twitchy about that. I eventually worked out it was because I was living near East Croydon - every time the Gatwick Express shot by, hundreds of active mobile calls were being transferred to and from each base station, and they took priority over data connections (in theory, data connections should handle a momentary disconnection).

          Anyway, that's how I ended up playing a fully featured MMO on a _2G_ data connection, since that remained stable and largely unused.

    5. Benno

      Re: Mythbusters

      The flip side of this is that only recently, I've had issues with monitors losing sync when a 10W 2-way radio was keyed within a few metres - cheap + nasty DP cables were to blame...

    6. MontyPyeman

      Re: Mythbusters

      I think it's more about the noise that gets picked up by the pilots headsets rather than interference with any of the other systems.

      you know that annoying electronic noise you get through your car/home stereo speakers when your phone is in close proximity to it, when it is about to receive an SMS message or switching to a different cell tower. Makes it harder to hear any instructions from Air Traffic Control.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back when WiFi was a fairly new and mysterious technology (for consumers at least), I had the "pleasure" of working for a large, UK electronics retailer that rhymed with "Worries PC Hurled", so we're basically talking Advent and Packard Bell computers with an 802.11b card in.

    When the stats were looked at, there was a spike in WiFi problems in the evening - disconnections and slow speeds from about 6pm onwards. Whilst you'd expect more calls in the evening anyway, there was a definite swing towards wireless woes.

    Eventually one of the more tech-savvy members of the team (there were some, I promise!) made the connection.... "Do you have a baby monitor? Could you just try turning it off for a second?" Bingo, back to full speed. Damn you, 2.4GHz.

    Incidentally, the level of the customers were were dealing with once meant that an advert that promised "wireless internet" had to be recalled and modified to point out that you needed some sort of router...

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Well they were shopping at Worries PC Hurled, so that shouldn't be too much of a surprise.

    2. Alien8n

      Even at work I sometimes have to tell people how to turn on the wifi on their laptops. Usually one of either function key that's been hit by accident or a physical slider that's shifted when being shoved in a bag

  13. myhandler

    Apple Mac SE 30: user complained it kept switching off when she was working, yet stayed on fine if she wasn't using it.

    So I sat down for the event she insisted would occur.

    It happened and I was surprised - so I thought we'd better repeat it.

    Luckily I sat a few feet away and there she was, one leg crossed over the other, pointy shoes, and her leg starts swinging as she gets into her work - and the tip of her bloody stilletto hits the mains switch on the wall, just enough to break the power.

    1. Is It Me

      There is a current one with Laptops turning themselves off or going in to standby.

      This is due to the lid closure sensor being a magnet and a reed switch, so when someone that has a fitness band with a magnet clasp on the strap puts their hand on the keyboard the magnet in the clasp trips the sensor and the laptop goes to sleep

      1. Yes Me Silver badge

        There is a current one with Laptops turning themselves off or going in to standby.

        And there was me thinking this was just standard Windoze 10 behaviour.

    2. 's water music

      Luckily I sat a few feet away and there she was, one leg crossed over the other, pointy shoes, and her leg starts swinging as she gets into her work - and the tip of her bloody stilletto hits the mains switch on the wall, just enough to break the power.

      Score one for the creepy IT guy always finding excuses to crawl around under certain desks in office hours

  14. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    Feng Shui

    I used to be somewhat sceptical about Feng Shui, until I started working at a place with a large bit of landscaped parkland out front that included a wonderful lake.

    I confess to an almost instant conversion when I realised how utterly calming the sight of the water could be.

    But only if you imagined one or other of the more odious company reps stuck into it head down.

    Happy days

  15. KittenHuffer Silver badge

    Routing turned out to be the issue

    W**ked for an NHS trust at one time which had part of their hospital token ring network that kept falling over intermittently and randomly.

    Took a while until some bright spark (not me) matched the downtime of the network segment with the uptime for the X-ray machine!

    A bit of rerouting and a bit of additional shielding and the problem mysteriously vanished.

    1. Anne Hunny Mouse

      Re: Routing turned out to be the issue

      Our Hospital CT machines wipe the WiFi out in one of the main corridors when in operation...

  16. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Vibrating platform thing

    My wife has a vibrating thing.

    It's a sort of platform you stand on and it has a rather larger motor which causes the plate/platform to jiggle about at different speeds. It's supposed to help you gain/lose weight as far as I know.

    Until I installed a small UPS on our broadband router (which was in another room), every time she turned on the machine, the VDSL connection would go out of sync, or in some cases, the router would crash and lock up. Also, terrestrial TV stopped working in our house.

    Since then we've moved house, and the problem's gone away. It could be something to do with the fact that the vibrating machine is still in pieces after the move and not plugged in.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Vibrating platform thing

      Sir, claim your upvote for starting a post with "my wife has a vibrating thing"!

  17. Charlie van Becelaere

    Similar story here

    back in the 80s I had a (very advanced!) EGA monitor on my desk connected to a Compaq 386 machine.

    I remember enjoying the colour pattern on the screen - which had originally been a solid blue - when I realised that the paper-clip holder on top of the monitor was magnetic.

    I moved the holder and the pretty colour pattern disappeared. Ah, the joys of CRTs, eh?

    1. Robert Sneddon

      Magazine competition

      Some computing magazine back in the day held a competition for the best free-gift piece of tat they could stick on the front cover as a giveaway. Someone came up with the Handy-Dandy Magnetic Floppy Disk Holder. It had a sticky pad to mount it on the side of the computer CRT, as a twofer.

  18. VinceLortho

    The Spirits are Upon IT

    File server holding the source code would corrupt a file now and then. The server was on an open work bench and the code was valuable (sold it to Microsoft eventually for I think $6.5M). I had argued it and other servers should be placed in a server room under lock and it's possible the machine was being tampered with since I could find nothing wrong with the hardware or OS. No one listened until another coder was working late and saw the cleaners unplug the server to plug in a vacuum cleaner. The server and others were then placed in a utility room with a locked door. They all auto-shut-downed because the office manager was in charge of the machines (don't ask) and would not listen when I asked how a room open to the plenum and very hot in the Summer would be cooled. A hard drive or two was completely cooked. The manager then went out and bought a portable air conditioner. Top of the line. "Excellent choice" I said. "Where does it drain the humidity condensate?" The manager looked at me as if I had announced myself to be the lizard king. I needed to check a server one weekend morning a couple of days later and walked into the server room with two inches of water on the floor. Remember it was a utility room converted to store servers. All the building's power ran through there. The manager was promoted to Director of Software Management (everything except development - infrastructure, user support, some testing, deployment) with no training in IT. Me, no promotion in ten years with a Dean's List degree in IT. I was too valuable as a programmer. I quit.

  19. aregross


    WRU, lol

  20. ADRM

    Not IT but nevertheless weird and interesting

    A long time ago (1983 to 1988) in a City far far away Cambridge I worked for a national TV and VCR rental chain. We had all sorts of issues with some customers. One in particular springs to mind. They rented a new Philips TV and VCR (VHS not those V2000 machines available from the Philips staff shop that we also repaired) and the problems started. The machine a Philips Euro designed 6362 plastic heap of crap compared to Panasonic machines which were much more expensive. The machine would go completely mad at random times during the day. It would power itself on and rewind or fast forward. You had no control over it. So another machine was swapped in as we thought we had one with a dodgy system control. Same thing a few days later. So I was sent around to take a look. The machine was installed on a sideboard at a comfortable height in front of a window with a sunny aspect. The woman by now was furious as she kept missing her shows. I figured it out in 30 seconds. I was there on a sunny day and the sun was shinning through the windows onto the tape end and start sensors locking the machine up as it was impossible for the tape to be at the end and start at the same time. The short term cure was to draw the curtains. Long time fix was to move the machine to the other end of the sideboard far from the TV and the sun.

    Another issue prevalent at the time was cheap stands for TV and VCRs which put the units too close together and caused all kinds of patterning coloured lines on the tape playing. The cure was to move the VCR forward a foot from under the TV and then line the bottom side of the shelf with tin foil. After a few years this issue went away as the machines were better screened and tested with other equipment to make sure this issue did not occur.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gaussian wobble

    Back in the 90's I was a tech at a company that provided complete systems and maintenance for an industrial design process. I was tasked with installing the computer systems and migrating data and configurations from various HP-UX boxen to shiny new PCs with NT 4.0. At one site I was working at, I did so while working in tandem with one of our techs installing a 3-axis CNC-like machine for prototyping. Just another day at work. I replaced the workstations and fired up the shiny new ones with 19" CRTs. The displays were looking like shite- not settings, not bad monitors, just serious moires, gaussian blurs, color distortions and flickering. The design folks were quite unhappy. I knew that it was some sort of field effect and being in an old industrial building, I looked around for mains power and heavy equipment being nearby inside the building. There were both, so I asked them to cut power to the building at lunch time to see if that would resolve the issue (monitor fed from laptop and UPS, tested beforehand to see that the problem was the same.) No power, no change. At this point we were standing in this 3rd floor design studio in a century-old rat warren of a mill building with giant windows and black curtains always covering the windows, scratching our heads, the clients becoming increasingly annoyed. I walked over to a window and pulled a curtain open and was staring at what were probably 26kV lines feeding the building, not much more than flashover distance from the window. Why hadn't the problem shown up on the old CRTs? The new CNC machine was about a ton of steel frame, a meter tall about 2 meters square sitting next to the computer work area and had changed the field dynamics. I never found out what they did to resolve the issue.

  22. sgrier23

    PC with the wrong time, but not really.


    Many years ago I was a field service engineer for a small IT services business in central Scotland. The company received a call from a medium sized client that the time on their PC was wrong - wrong by nine minutes

    An engineer was sent out with a CMOS, CR2032, battery, he duly swapped the battery and reset the time - all was well. The engineer left and an hour later the company called saying that the time was wrong again. A senior engineer visited the customer later that day, he took a motherboard and a CMOS battery. He checked and said that the motherboard was knackered and so he duly swapped it out. By this time is was end of the day for the client so left after testing the PC that the time was correct, he rebooted a few times and all was well.

    The next morning the client called again. This time my box spoke to me and said, "Your good at figuring out these crazy issues. Go and fix it!"

    Normally we would have 90 minutes to diagnose and fix any issue, when I asked how long I had he replied with "Just fix it!".

    "Okay" I said.

    I loaded the van with a power supply, another motherboard and a few different CMOS batteries. It took about 45 minutes to get from the office to the client site, I entered and spoke to the local manager. I was shown the PC and asked how long it would take to fix it.

    "I don't really know, I need to figure out why the previous repairs failed and then I need to see what the problem actually is."

    I disconnected the PC from the power and network and sat it on a desk in a small room away from the main office. I stripped the PC down to components and checked each. CPU was fine - no bent pins, RAM was fine - I swapped it anyway. Checked the voltages on the PSU and all were within range. I did a DIAG2000 hard-disk diagnostics and the HDD passed the tests with flying colours.

    By this time it was almost lunch. I went to the managers office to say I would be going out for a little time to get lunch. The manager was okay, I asked how I was progressing. I said I still could not find the fault, but I was hoping I would get it done soon.

    I looked at my watch, it said 13:15. I looked at the time on the managers PC - 13:06. Eh? Hold on a minute. I checked another PC and the time was 13:06. Right, it looked as if all the PC's had the wrong time, but no one noticed except the user who contacted us.

    I went to the server room. a nice IBM box running Novel Netware 3.11. I checked the time on the server - 13:07.

    Netware being Netware controls the time on the client PC's which is attached the server.

    The light clicked on. I swapped out the CMOS battery - just to be sure - and reset the time.

    Done, dusted and finished.

    When I told my boss, he was shocked that two previous engineers - one senior - had not noticed this. I was rewarded with my normal salary and a nice bottle ok whisky.

    Those were the days.

  23. daflibble

    Reminds me of a similar story at my first employer. They had a client with similar problems with persistent PC crashes. Turned out to be the use of an ARC welding machine on the same mains circuit was the culprit. Temporary loan of a UPS proved the point.

  24. T-Bo

    As a young man, I worked temp in a store-room, pulling parts for electronic assemblies at a company that made digital printing equipment. All of the inventory control was centered in a U-shaped arrangement of desks, holding 8 PC workstations. Company decided to build a beautiful steel mezzanine over this, steel poles all around, to reclaim that part of the footprint for storage.

    Every time the welders working on the decking above would strike an arc, the images on all of those monitors below would go absolutely crazy.

    Entertaining, it was ... :)

  25. sgrier23

    Power? Too much Power!!!


    As an ex-field engineer I have lots of stories to tell about customers 8alls ups or mistakes or unreliability between the brain and fingers or telephone.

    One day I get a call from a very high-tech engineering business.

    "Hello It Support" I answer.

    "Ah, hello. can you help us?" the caller (male) says, "The monitor of my PC is all wobbly."

    "Wobbly??" I ask

    "Yes, Wobbly, like a jelly." the caller explains, "You know like a jelly. It's the picture, its all wobbly. can you help?"

    "Of course I can help, what's your address?" I ask.

    I got the address and headed for the van. I took my toolkit and I wondered what "Wobbly" actually meant.

    I arrived onsite after a short 15minute drive. I passed through security and was left in the reception of the office, cum factory.

    A few minutes after the receptionist called a number a rather harassed man in a suit rushed into the reception.

    "Hello, are you here for the monitor?" I was asked.


    "Good, follow me." I was told.

    We walked through the office building and up a small 4-step set of stairs, along another corridor and into a windowless office.

    "Look" I was told.

    And lo-and-behold, I saw a monitor with a wobbly screen. It was an old-style CRT plugged into a minitower on a desk. There were another 3 similar PC in the office, the others were okay.

    "Have you swapped the monitor?" I asked.


    I unplugged a monitor which was working on another PC and plugged it into the PC with the wobbly monitor. This monitor appeared okay but after about 20 seconds it started to wobble like the original. I plugged the wobbly monitor into the PC with no monitor and the picture was perfect - no wobble.

    I went to the van an picked up the loan monitor and video adapter I always carried with me, plugged it in to the faulty PC - there was a significant wobble on the screen. I powered off the PC and rplaced the VGA card, powered on and waited...

    Wobble returned...

    I swapped the VGA card back to the original and moved the PC to another desk. The display was perfect. No wobble. I moved a working PC to the desk where the faulty one was and it wobbled.

    So, a faulty PC and monitor moved from one location to another and the fault didn't.

    I stood for a few seconds. Another engineer from the client company entered the office, I looked at the door and could see the beginnings of the factory. I left the office and looked along the wall. Through the partition wall was a 3-phase, 415v junction box.

    Aah. The solution. Power, but not in the right place. I showed the engineer the solution - to move the PC or the junction box. The elected to move the PC and the issue was fixed.

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