back to article Techie in need of a doorstop picks up 'chunk of metal' – only to find out it's rather pricey

Gather round, dear readers, for a priceless story in this week's column for techies' mishaps. For this episode of Who, Me?, we meet "Sean", who was working for a large and well-known mobile phone manufacturer when the incident took place. He had previously worked on the firm's side project, just until it was up and running, …

  1. David Shaw

    Nice. Not much platinum here, but I did find a bar of iridium in a cupboard, rather a lot of iridium!

    Over coffee, it was briefly considered that we should powder it, then sprinkle it as a thin layer - deepfake/create a new K-T boundary somewhere interesting. In 'old science labs' like mine, where you had nuclear research reactors & accelerators, it's rather a good idea to first stick a geiger-counter in the back of some of the older cupboards, you wouldnt believe the amount of ...

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      You forgot the icon ;) -->

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Hopefully not ->

    2. VikiAi

      Never got to play with anything that exotic, though did get to refresh some PCs in a lab with neat little stacks of lead blocks around a few things I was advised not to touch (I don't think it was lead-poisoning they were worried about)!

      Then there was the bio-chem labs, where you were advised - after working in them - to wash your hands /before/ going to the bathroom too. Just to be sure!

      (Safety was actually pretty high, despite my dramatised description - I was properly inducted and supervised, and the lead blocks, and biohazards were nowhere near where I was working, and I wouldn't have even noticed them across the room behind transparent barriers if they hadn't been pointed out to me by enthusiastic-to-share researchers).

      1. Alien8n

        A friend of mine used to work for Oxford University. Allegedly when clearing out an old fridge from the biology department they came across a box of anthrax.

        1. Korev Silver badge

          When I worked for the Other Place, we had an email asking if we had any weapons grade pathogens in the fridges. As we only had up to BSL-1, any experiments would have probably been "over quite quickly"....

          1. TRT Silver badge

            We had some uranium salts in the histology fridge... bright yellow it was, when we removed the aluminium foil from around the bottle.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Uranium? What me worry?

              When I was in the 6th form we had a science demo day and one of the exhibits was a demo of the different penetrating powers of different particles - so we had alpha, beta and gamma emitters. The beta emitter was a bottle of potassium chloride. The alpha emitter was a bottle of uranyl nitrate. There was a big sign on the door: nobody under 16 to be admitted.

              I was talking to the local MP when I heard a voice behind me say "Mummy it doesn't smell of anything" and turned around to find a small child had removed the top of the uranyl nitrate bottle.

              Naturally we went into full emergency mode, removing bottle and lid from child and checking it all over (including up nose and in mouth) with the Geiger counter while the mother looked on in complete horror. We decided that calling up HS&E for advice was unnecessary because we couldn't find the slightest radiation above background, and the uranyl nitrate consisted of a few big lumps at the bottom of a large bottle. Uranyl nitrate also stains heavily - we actually used it in the photographic society for intensifying weak negatives - so if you come into contact with even quite a small quantity it's very visible. It also fluoresces and nothing was seen under the UV lamp.

              Things were different in the 1960s. Nowadays I suspect there would have been an enquiry, lawsuits, and arguments in court over whether the warning notices had been big enough,.

              1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                Re: Uranium? What me worry?

                My guess is that uranyl is sufficiently close to urea in spelling that the small child couldn't resist having a sniff of the bottle of yellow dried wee.

                1. Marshalltown

                  Re: Uranium? What me worry?

                  Yet "Mommy" still didn't attentd the warnings and' at a guess, DID suggest the substance in the bottle had an odor to be sniffed. OR, she often took her offspring along on trips where she bought make up and perfume.

              2. VikiAi

                Re: Uranium? What me worry?

                Part of the PC refresh above included a chemistry-department move to a building on the other side of the city. One professor moved his collection of small glass bottles of just about every liquid-form chemical in circulation in a single large cardboard box in the back of his car (he didn't want the removalists to handle them). The chemistry Tech. was not amused. Shouting may have occurred.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          As a grad student I worked in a department on campus where many lab doors had little signs on them with the symbol for "glow in the dark if you spend too much time in here". They often had hand held Geiger counters sitting around, and given the number of clicks on the various tables and counters I got, they were often rather casual in the use of their (admittedly weak) radioactive tracer elements.

          But they were also unconcerned about chemicals in general - while doing inventory once I came across a rather large bottle labeled "Cyanide" sitting up on a shelf out in the open all by its lonesome.

          1. drexciya

            Cyanide salt solution by themselves are not dangerous. They become dangerous if you make such solutions acidic. Then you generate actual cyanide gas (HCN).

            1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

              Cyanide salt solution by themselves are not dangerous

              Ah, that's good to know .....

              Many years ago, with a different work hat on, a colleague and myself were involved in moving all the IT when one of our remote offices (part of another company ours had acquired) to a new location. My colleague was at the old site busy packing stuff up, and I was at the new site unpacking it as it arrived - and getting the networking stuff setup in preparation.

              My colleague left the other site when he'd finished, and we heard that had he been another 5 minutes then he'd have been stuck there for some time. Someone had found a large bottle labelled Cyanide in the cellar of a house and the Police had locked down the area while the nasties clean up squad removed it.

          2. lilly

            My fist job out of college was as a plating engineer for semiconductor products. We had several 100 gallon gold plating baths containing 1 oz per gallon of gold cyanide. We used to have 4 foot tall cardboard craft barrels on the back dock full of potassium or sodium cyanide "briquettes" used to maintain the cyanide plating tanks and cleaning solutions. No security or concerns at that time. This plating line was rather long in the tooth and had known better days. there was an engineering lab full of chemicals used for running experiments or analysis. I decided to inventory what was sitting on all the rusty shelves one day when I came across a 4 oz bottle of trinitro phenol. That rang a bell. It's a more sensitive cousin to trinitro toluene, or TNT. Metal contamination, like rust, only makes it more sensitive. I had our Chem Services remove the trinitro phenol.

    3. ckm5

      Did a spell at Lockheed

      and the sat RF guys often machined cases out of solid gold. I was told they had 2.5 tons of the stuff onsite. No wonder security looked like the SWAT team.....

      1. StargateSg7

        Re: Did a spell at Lockheed


        ckm5: Did a spell at Lockheed

        and the sat RF guys often machined cases out of solid gold. I was told they had 2.5 tons of the stuff onsite. No wonder security looked like the SWAT team....."


        if the LMCO (Lockheed) guys were machining cases out of gold, then that was SPACE-RATED stuff and based upon your "other" information that means it was the AIRCRAFT division and NOT the rockets division which means LMCO has a SPACEPLANE?

        So based upon your likely age, I am guessing it was for the parasite plane on the SR-75 (Senior Citizen/Brilliant Buzzard) aircraft OR the Pumpkin Seed-shaped high flyer craft! THANK YOU for your confirmation!


        1. Alistair

          Re: Did a spell at Lockheed

          Dammit guys, stop spiking the koolaide with LSD.

        2. ckm5

          Re: Did a spell at Lockheed

          It was in satellite assembly at Moffett field circa 2009, so, yes, space rated.

          That's why I said "sat RF" - woosh -

          PS - not sure what you 'other info' is other than the LSD mentioned in another post.... There is nothing particularly secret about Lockheed sat assembly facility -

    4. Chris 244

      Picric acid

      Worked in a small lab, found an old bottle of picric acid in the flammables cupboard. There were white crystals all around the cap of the bottle, so opening it would probably have blown up the lab.

      Asked the lab tech in charge about it, he said he called the Fire Department once about it, they told him to call the Bomb Squad for disposal. So he ... put it back in the cabinet and left it there.

      That was over 20 years ago. It probably is still there today.

      1. Marshalltown

        Re: Picric acid

        I had a friend who worked in a hospital lab. He had a serious "hoarding" problem and also really could not stand to throwaway pontially useful materials. One day ho asked me if I had any use for chemicals. I didn't know - well, really, you never can tell - so I went over. He was selling his house due to a divorce and need to clear things out, which looked like it might require Hercules. Upstairs, in a VERY hot attice had several boxes of bottles and canisters of out ot date chemicals that the lab had designated for disposal and which my friend had decided he could not bear seeing "wasted." My hair pretty much stood on end when I peered inside one box and saw numerous bottles and cans labled with chemical names indicating that they really didn't belong in the same neighborhood. I literally tip-toed out. Then told him needed to call the fire department and somehow explain the situation. I figured they would clear anywhere from several houses to several blocks before addressing those boxes. I never did hear how the situation was ultimatley cleared up but I imagine there is another really interesting story that is told somewhere.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could have been worse, an on site job at Sellafield and two bars of plutonium followed by a prompt criticality.

    1. Giovani Tapini

      Cover story

      This happened far away at a place called Windscale. Nobody will know it was you...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cover story

        Nobody will know it was you

        Besides, who reads these stories at the Reg anyway. About 35 other blokes, judging by the thumbs-up numbers...

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Nuclear labs are where you might come across platinum - it can be formed I to crucibles to heat test samples beyond 1000 deg C with contaminating them. Which is why scientific grade platinum is purer than jewelry grade (both are beyond 99 percent).

        At a nuclear labs near me there was a bit of a panic when some platinum mesh couldn't be found. Informal investigations by the scientists led them to a recently retired old boy who had taken them with him because he thought it'd make a good trellis for his roses. The equivilent of the labs annual operating budget supporting Bob's roses! After they explained this to him, he was apologetic and the platinum recovered, without involving anyone else.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          >Nuclear labs are where you might come across platinum

          Not just nuclear, you also find platinum crucibles in many other analytical labs where you do X-ray fluorescence sample prep, ash testing, loss on ignition plus others.

          1. Ivan Vorpatril

            Fiberglass is manufactured through tiny holes in a spinning platinum mold.

            1. Swarthy Silver badge

              Fiberglass is industrial candyfloss?

          2. Quadrant2


            Remember finding a chunky platinum crucible gracing a PAs desk with paper clips in it!

        2. M. Poolman


          I heard that story too. You didn't live in accomodation with the initials RCH by any chance?

        3. Rol

          You'd be surprised at how cheap platinum is nowadays. Last time I looked gold was trading at about £900 odd per oz and platinum bobbing around £600 per oz. with a forecast it could go lower as diesel vehicles get legislated off the roads. It being a component in the scrubbing technology, with little other demand for it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Yep, once (I think it was Honda) came up with a catalytic converter that used palladium (rather than platinum) coated pellets as the catalyst, platinum prices dropped rather sharply. But still, if some auto shop wants to keep your old converter after doing the replacement work, politely ask them for it and find a scrap yard to sell it to.

      2. TheRealRoland

        "Tungsten Carbide drills?! What the hell are Tungsten Carbide drills?!"

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          You had to go poncing off to Barnsley, you and yer coal-mining friends.

          1. Dagg


            They have just started showing that again here in Oz, just seen that particular episode as well. Have a beer on me

        2. Toni the terrible

          Drills with bits made from Tungsten Carbide - quite common really - often formed by hot iso-static sintering from powder. I was involved in the labs with Wimet Hard Metal Tools of Coventry before Sandvick took them over.

          1. Milo Tsukroff

            Wondered how they made Carbide drill bits! Had to get one to drill holes in hardened steel, I destroyed 4 lesser-metal drill bits drilling one hole. Got the bit (off of Amazon) and that thing drills perfect holes. As long as it is well-lubricated. I had a bottle of silicon copier oil hanging around, used that, works perfect.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              "As long as it is well-lubricated."

              In school metalwork classes we had a soapy liquid that we applied liberally when using vertical drills. Think the lathes had a supply too - but I never progressed beyond the hand filing stage. Did some nice bowls on the woodwork lathes though - which had their own dangers if you dug the chisel in too hard. No goggles or dust masks in those days.

              1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

                In school metalwork classes we had a soapy liquid that we applied liberally when using vertical drills. Think the lathes had a supply too

                Yup, standard option on metalworking machines - often referred to colloquially as "suds".


                When I started as an apprentice at a large engineering firm <cough> decades ago, part of one of the safety lectures was about the risks from cutting fluid - referred to as Gluta which I suspect was a trade name at the time. It was white and looked like milk - so one trick that had been used before then was to replace someone's milk in a carton with Gluta, which the target would then drink by mistake and get very seriously ill.

        3. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

          "Tungsten Carbide drills?! What the hell are Tungsten Carbide drills?!"

          Practice for real Tungsten Carbides?

  3. Waseem Alkurdi

    Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

    My whole life's been just that xD

    1. pavel.petrman Silver badge

      Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

      My father has a hobby: whenever he happens to work for a large company with an international presence (Strabag et al), he starts a rumour (well, tells one of the rumour prone coworkers an interesting story from abroad which invariably gets turned into a rumour a second later) and then waits for the rumour to return back to him like a boomerang. He says the collective imagination and storytelling of an otherwise boring construction company is comparable to that of J. K. Rowling.

      1. STOP_FORTH

        Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

        This has been going on a long time. Go and DuckDuckGo the origins of the phrase Cock and Bull story. The Cock and The Bull were two pubs on The Great North Road.

        1. GlenP Silver badge

          Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

          Both pubs are still going strong in Stony Stratford.

          1. Sam Jelfs

            Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

            And many a pint i've been sunk in each of them, or rather more often in the Vaults bar. Though not for some time now i'm afraid.

        2. AbelSoul

          Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

          Go and DuckDuckGo the origins of the phrase Cock and Bull story. The Cock and The Bull were two pubs on The Great North Road.

          I had a peek and apparently the claim that's where the phrase originated is a bit of a cock and bull story itself.

    2. Crypto Monad

      Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

      It's when you go searching on Google for a solution to a problem, and find the solution that you posted yourself six months earlier, that you know your brain is not what it once was...

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

        I went searching for the lyrics to the Porterhouse Blue college song. The search lead me back to my own website where I'd transcribed and translated it ten years ago.

      2. Criggie

        Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

        "neat - this guy has a box with the same hostname as me....."

      3. really_adf

        Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

        It's when you go searching on Google for a solution to a problem, and find the solution that you posted yourself six months earlier, that you know your brain is not what it once was...

        In my case it was a few years rather than six months. Maybe more understandable, but I didn't even recognise my own writing and it was some time before I realised...

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

      Probably the best example...

      When I was at U.S. Navy Nuclear Power School (Orlando, FL) back in the early 80's, there were a lot of officers (as well as us enlisted types) at the school, in 2 different buildings. Between the officer's and enlisted buildings, there was a large circular sidewalk. One day the entire officer class was walking on the circle, and they deliberately went "the other way" so they wouldn't have to salute anyone. Now the military REQUIRES enlisted people to salute officers, and the officers are supposed to salute back.

      Well, I was walking 'that way' and needed to walk around the circle to get to where I was going. So I went along the same path as the entire officer class, and basically SALUTED THEM ALL, with a nice fat grin on my face. Yeah, it was kind of a joke.

      A couple of years later one of the officers (being Engineering Officer of the Watch) was telling a story in the maneuvering area (where the engine room control panels are, including reactor control) and I was the reactor operator, and he was telling this story about how "some enlisted guy" [or similar] caused his entire class to have to free up their saluting arm and salute him.

      "Hey that was me!"

      In any case he didn't appreciate the joke, even a couple of years later. Nothing ever came of it, of course, since I didn't do anything "wrong" but it was typical of me to be "overly military" as a form of humor.

      Related, whenever I spoke over the P.A. system (the shutdown reactor operator had supervisory authority over the engine room most of the time while in port) I always used a 'near gravel' voice, spoken close to the microphone, in a manner similar to Officer Jack Friday from Dragnet. One officer commented that it sounded "overly official". And of course, it did. But then again, who's gonna get you in trouble for being "too military" ??? [and it was always clear and easy to understand]

      icon, because, devilish humor

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Have you ever heard a story about something you did told second-hand?

        BRNC Dartmouth, everyone salutes anyone of a higher rank (well apart from the gate guards who are under orders to only salute those of Navy Captain rank or above - comes from on high else they'd spend all day saluting and getting nothing done)

        Now some visiting "higher ups" have a convention in their departments that everyone will ignore that rule (to save on saluting)

        Problem is at BRNC there are eyes everywhere and if you don't salute or worse fail to return a salute, it rapidly works up to the head of the college, then Capt / Cmdr who oversees BRNC, Raleigh and Lympstone) and people have been reminded in rather strong terms I'm told of the college policy.

        Also cars are required to give way to marching squads, a bit unnerving marching along when a car is coming the other way and not stopping, cue training staff running up to the car and hurling often 4 letter expletives at the driver - often at the darkest shades of blue, the signs to be fair are everywhere and hard to miss.

      2. loco_wunee

        Shipmate attack

        From NNPTC, I was sent to the Navy's wonderful prototype reactor plants in the middle of a desert... in Idaho... in winter to spend some time learning to operate a nuclear reactor that used to float in a pool of water as a mock submarine. This story was told to me about "controlled pure water" and the abbreviation for it... CPW. Basically, any water that has been through the reactor and then purified to standards 1000 times more stringent than potable water is CPW.

        Well, the Navy runs on roughly 3 things at a place like that, with long 12-hour shifts and not too much for entertainment. So we got coffee, telling stories, and standing watch. Well, this one ties in #1 and #2, so hear me out.

        The "noobs" or "nubs" of the fleet were often tasked with coffee making and refilling for the slightly more senior folks. Well, as the story goes, a trainee was being questioned about different plant components as part of his testing. It was pretty common to ask trainees questions in unusual ways, to plumb the depth and breadth of their knowledge, so one youngster was asked to explain what CPW was.

        "Oh, that's just coffee pot water."

        "Yeah, that's funny. No, you need to explain the CPW system."

        [Confused look] Well, there's a tap over beside the wall where you can fill the coffee pots.

        [Concerned look] Uh, ok, show me where you get the water for the coffee pot.

        [Points to CPW system test tap] Right here!

        Ok, so I don't really know if this ever happened... but if it did... I'll bet it was quite an incident! The CPW system, just so you know, didn't have any "special" marking on it, so while plausible, it may be apocryphal.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I did that once too...

    But I got in trouble when the useless piece of shit turned out to be my boss' empty skull.

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: I did that once too...

      On a side note, does anybody know if the skulls of my enemies are dishwasher proof?

      1. Waseem Alkurdi

        Re: I did that once too...

        Definitely not acid-proof though. (Bone is calcium carbonate, aside from the organic matter)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I did that once too...

          >Definitely not acid-proof though. (Bone is calcium carbonate, aside from the organic matter)

          That depends on which acid you are using, calcium carbonate reacts to give a coating of calcium sulphate which inhibits further reaction when using sulphuric acid. Use aqua regia as it gets the job of getting rid of the skeleton done, however I'm talking from a purely theoretical point and not from experience, honest.

          1. deive

            Re: I did that once too...

            Hmmm, I want to upvote for the knowledge, but in this case perhaps you have a little bit too much?!?

          2. dajames Silver badge

            Re: I did that once too...

            That depends on which acid you are using, calcium carbonate reacts to give a coating of calcium sulphate which inhibits further reaction when using sulphuric acid. Use aqua regia as it gets the job of getting rid of the skeleton done.

            Calcium Chloride is soluble, and won't form a coating, so hydrochloric acid will do the job.

            You cartainly don't want to use aqua regia if you're hoping to sell any gold fillings, afterwards ...

            1. Richard Parkin

              Re: I did that once too...

              Hydrochloride acid won’t dissolve the bone, just the mineral parts and you’re left with rubbery bones. Standard school procedures in 1950ish labs.

              1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                Re: I did that once too...

                >Hydrochloride acid won’t dissolve the bone,...... Standard school procedures in 1950ish labs.

                Bloody hell - I thought I went to a rough school, but we never did acid bath body disposal

                1. Mark 85 Silver badge

                  Re: I did that once too...

                  So where did one learn the BOFH skills back then? Mine came via training as a PFY.

          3. DJO Silver badge

            Re: I did that once too...

            Bone is calcium carbonate

            Your bones might be but everybody else has bone of Calcium Phosphate & collagen. Calcium Carbonate is far too soluble for such a soggy environment.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I did that once too...

              >Calcium Carbonate is far too soluble for such a soggy environment.

              Works perfectly well for sea shells, you don't get a more aqueous environment than under water.

              1. DJO Silver badge

                Re: I did that once too...

                Firstly sea shells are being constantly replenished and also the high salinity and slightly alkaline nature of seawater (~8.1pH) prevents them from being dissolved faster than they can be replaced.

                Blood & plasma is ~7.3pH which while still alkaline is close enough to neutral to dissolve CaCO3

                1. This post has been deleted by its author

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: I did that once too...

                  >Firstly sea shells are being constantly replenished

                  FYI calcium carbonate (1.3×10−3g/100ml) is lot less soluble in water than calcium phosphate (0.002g/100ml) at pH7 STP, phosphate bone is also constantly replenished by osteoblasts.

                  >high salinity and slightly alkaline nature of seawater

                  Freshwater molluscs ?

    2. MOH

      Re: I did that once too...

      Well, that escalated quickly

  5. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    I don't believe it...

    Who'd pay an engineer enough to have a lump of platinum as a paperweight on their desks?

    1. Waseem Alkurdi

      Re: I don't believe it...


      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: I don't believe it...

        Just make sure the corners are rounded...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't believe it...

      Who says it was a paperweight? It probably had a purpose, and obviously the MD knew what it was, that it was company property, and that it wasn't where it was supposed to be (which was probably also not "on some guy's desk")

  6. DailyLlama
    Paris Hilton

    Happened to me in reverse...

    I was halfway through an anecdote about an old lady dropping a tenner on her way out of the supermarket (The guy behind her picked it up and started to walk off in a different direction, so *I* pushed him in the right direction and called her to say that this bloke had found her money that she dropped and wanted to return it), when I realised that one of the people in the group was the person who'd actually done it and I'd seen it happen... very embarrassing.

    Paris, because well, it's embarrassing...

  7. imanidiot Silver badge

    Company watercooler gossip

    This tale to me seems to fit into the company watercooler talk embiggening of events. What was probably an expensive piece of machined metal (large gauge block or something) turned into platinum. The boss's quick inquiry into why something expensive is being used to prop a door open is turned into minutes filled with pain and anguish. An engineers shoulder shrug is turned into an epic tale of blasé.

    The truth, as they say, is out there.

    1. jmch Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Company watercooler gossip

      "This tale to me seems to fit into the company watercooler talk embiggening of events. What was probably an expensive piece of machined metal (large gauge block or something) turned into platinum. The boss's quick inquiry into why something expensive is being used to prop a door open is turned into minutes filled with pain and anguish. An engineers shoulder shrug is turned into an epic tale of blasé."

      Which is probably why the engineer in question has no recollection of such events!

      1. Jonathon Green

        Re: Company watercooler gossip

        Actually if the business involved is who[1] I assume them to be[2] then it’s entirely plausible that there would be substantial lumps of exotic and/or precious metals conveniently to hand in the VIP reception/showroom area to demonstrate the look/feel/heft of various case options..

        [1] Vertu

        [2] And the description of the premises is consistent with it.

  8. Alan J. Wylie

    Very similar story here: long ago, contracting for Ferranti, before they were driven into bankruptcy by a crooked arms salesman, we had a top-of-the range Silicon Graphics server, with a very large number of CPUs. It was delivered for development with the latest model, with an agreement to upgrade them when a more powerful version was released. That day came, and a SG techie arrived with a big box. He parked up next to the closest doors to the server room, which weren't official entrances. As we opened the doors and he lifted the box out of the back of his van, a security guard came past. We explained why we had opened the doors, at which point he said "OK, I'll give you a hand" and picked up the box. The look on his face when we said "be very careful, there is about quarter of a million pounds worth of silicon in there" was a sight to behold.

    1. swm Silver badge

      My son worked at AMD as a coop. He was nonchalantly carrying a "boat" of 24 silicon wafers from place to place when a supervisor pointed out to him that he was carrying about a quarter of a million dollars worth of product.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        My son worked at AMD as a coop. He was nonchalantly carrying a "boat" of 24 silicon wafers from place to place when a supervisor pointed out to him that he was carrying about a quarter of a million dollars worth of product.

        I can empathise (I'm a semiconductor process engineer).

        It's always fun working with new field engineer colleagues who are all eager to get stuck in with suggestions on how things could be tweaked and improved. Then you remind them of the value of the product running through the tools they're working on and why any even tiny changes are reviewed and tested to death and back.

        Given how much it can cost if you screw things up (especially if you do it in such a way that it goes unnoticed for a while, which happens worryingly often), the sage advice is just to leave things be and carry on. Oh and to try not to think about it, or else we'd be too afraid to touch the damn tools to get anything done at all.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          In one of Tom Peters "Excellence" books there is the story of a problem with dust contamination on etched wafers. They upgraded the air filtering system to no avail.

          Then they discovered that the Goods Inward clerk was conscientiously opening the incoming raw wafers' boxes in order to tally the number inside with the invoice.

    2. defiler

      Hmm - fella I worked with nearly 20 years ago told me of an SGI server (I vaguely remember being described as "red and about the size of a fridge") spending years in a Ferranti building without ever being unpacked because there was no paperwork for it. Then one day, about 3 years later, it was taken away again.

      1. Alan J. Wylie

        Ours was an Onyx Reality Engine. The size of a *very* big fridge, Purple, IIRC.

        It was for the SRMH (Single Role Mine Hunter) sonar simulation trainer.

        There was going to be an OpenGL virtual rendering of the view from a "Yellow Submarine" ROV fitted with a cable cutter and capable of dropping a demolition charge, whilst simultaneously generating a simulated feed into the sonar display. The latter was to be done on a rack of TI TMS 320C40 DSPs.

        Ours was definitely powered up and used for development. One memory is of having to optimise the loop unrolling of the C compiler to match the size of cache on a processor.

        1. defiler

          I had a shot of an Onyx RE2 many moons ago. I've regaled my kids with tales of how big, loud, hungry and expensive it was, and the fact that it can now be outrun by a Nintendo Switch on a battery.

          Needless to say they weren't interested...

      2. #!

        Fridge sized red SGI

        That would have been an SGI Crimson - a few years ahead of the Onyx

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A friend worked at GE Power Generation, where she helped make things like steam turbines that generated 980 megawatts. There was a lovely cutaway drawing on her door.

      She gave me a large turbine blade to look at, then informed me it was a state of the art single crystal metal, and worth almost 6 figures.

      I put it down VERY gently and carefully!

      1. YetAnotherLocksmith

        Don't worry, they're pretty tough! Just defrost whatever you're shredding, and it'll be fine.

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Feynman's version if the gold doorstop at Los Alamos. They'd had a hollow sphere made as an experiment about reflecting neutrons back into the fissile material to help achieve criticality and it was now superfluous and not particularly valuable when compared to plutonium.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      I cant imagine a sphere would make a good door stop full stop.


      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: I cant imagine a sphere would make a good door stop full stop.

        It was in fact a hemisphere (Half of a full sphere).

      2. Remy Redert

        Re: I cant imagine a sphere would make a good door stop full stop.

        It's gold. If you need it to be a doorstop, it's easy enough to deform a hollow sphere of gold to the point where it won't roll.

        Mind you, it would in this case as already noted probably be 2 hemi-spheres, either of which would make a fine doorstop.

    2. Andy Taylor

      I had a similar doorstop in the early 90s, not gold but one of the first CD-ROM burners to be released. It was the size of a modern standard desktop PC and wrote at single speed. It became obsolete almost instantly but my boss wouldn't let me throw it out because "it cost 3 grand". So it was relegated to holding the workshop door open.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        I went to a BT office once and noted that they were using a Cisco 4000 as a door-stop (which isn't a small doorstop) - the person I was speaking to simply replied that they were the most handy thing around as there are loads of them just sat about under people's desks. So I looked, and yes, there were Cisco 4000's everywhere.

        Since this was around 20 years ago they weren't cheap either.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          When I was a PFY I visited a client of the firm I worked for to do some database wrangling, arrived via the carpark and let myself into the very open back door. Asked around to find the boss and explain who I was and what I was there for, then asked for access to the DB server.

          He pointed over to the standalone tower machine propping the back door open. This was a very large (in turnover) insurance broker, the database, full of financial info, was on a very insecure box in the freaking carpark.

          A few years later (and with a beard) I was doing some other work for them and the boss regaled me with a tale of when some "jumped up scrote" PFY had given him a stern lecture about data security, which he though was a stupid concept...

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      It wasn't hollow, it was solid:

      which as half a sphere, about 18 inches in diameter -– “is made of solid gold."


      (Although from my back-of-the-envelope calculations that would weigh over 400kg, so I think either it was smaller, maybe eight inches, or it was hollow.)

      1. Killfalcon

        "Solid gold" and "pure gold" are often used interchangeably, so probably still meant hollow.

        1. TRT Silver badge
          1. Swarthy Silver badge

            "Thorin sits down and sings about gold"

  10. GlenP Silver badge

    Working for an engineering company I wanted a couple of long mooring spikes for my boat. The machinist agreed to make them for me, and commented, "I've got some spare bar the right diameter that's not on inventory for one of them." Having duly paid for 316 Stainless bar for the other spike I discovered the free one was made out of Hastelloy, a very resistant alloy with a cost comparable to mid-grade titanium.

    Good job the bosses never found out!

  11. Paul Cooper

    Watch out for geological samples

    Back in about 1970, during that after the A-levels doldrum of school existence, I did a little extra-curricular work on atomic physics. The school had some licensed radiation sources, and a Geiger counter, so I did the various experiments in the book. Having exhausted the "official" experiments, I took it into my head to see what the various geological samples that an old boy had bequeathed to the school in the distant past did - I had noticed that one of them was pitchblende, and knew the story of Marie Curie. Turned out that the pitchblende sample was WAY more radioactive than the carefully stored and licensed radioactive sources were! I then spent an interesting day or so making a lead box for the sample!

    1. dajames Silver badge

      Re: Watch out for geological samples

      Turned out that the pitchblende sample was WAY more radioactive than the carefully stored and licensed radioactive sources were!

      We had two "official" radioactive sources at school. IIRC one was Cobalt 60 (beta and gamma radiation source) and the the other Americium 241 (alpha source). They were tiny samples -- around 5 microcuries each, I think -- enclosed in little nickel cups with convenient handles that enabled them to be picked up with lab tweezers, and each kept in its own special lead-lined wooden box. Each produced a modest ticking from the geiger counter when the tube was held up to the sample.

      The physics master also had an old clock dial with luminous markings painted (we assumed) with a radium sulphide/zinc sulphide paint. As that wasn't officially a radioactive source it was kept in a drawer with the blackboard cleaner. That clock face drove the geiger counter frantic when the detector was anywhere near it.

      Then again, so did my watch!

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Andy Taylor

          Re: Watch out for geological samples

          My dad, who worked at AWE Aldermaston, used to tell the story of the chap who took his dosimeter home to Aberdeen one weekend by mistake.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Watch out for geological samples

            Said to be the reason there are no nuclear power stations in Cornwall - the background radiation would already exceed the official safety limits for a power station & trigger the nuclear accident detectors.

            1. Paul Cooper

              Re: Watch out for geological samples

              The fly-ash from coal-burning power stations would probably count as low-level waste if it came from a nuclear power station. My own view is that I'd far rather live close to a nuclear power station than a coal-burning power station; the emissions from the latter are MUCH nastier! I recall that many years ago, a TV programme tested various household items for radioactivity, and it turned out that some teabags exceeded the level for low-level waste. And as you say, lots of the UK has a high background radiation level - it isn't just Cornwall, some of the Mesozoic shales also contain a lot of radon.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Watch out for geological samples

                Oh Schist!

                1. Swarthy Silver badge

                  Re: Watch out for geological samples

                  That wasn't gneiss!

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Watch out for geological samples

                The CHP at Sellafield had to be built outside the nuclear sites boundaries for the same reason. The natural gas feeding it from barrow had too high a concentration of radioactives for nuclear site safety limits.

                1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: Watch out for geological samples

                  "The natural gas feeding it from barrow had too high a concentration of radioactives for nuclear site safety limits."

                  This, and the other anecdotes above only go to prove that the anti-nuclear lobby really don't have a clue about safe radiation limits.

                  1. YetAnotherLocksmith

                    Re: Watch out for geological samples

                    The reason for trying to keep the background radioisotopes low in a nuclear power plant, is so that you can detect when there is something going (possibly incredibly badly) wrong.

                    If it was built from radioactive rock, you wouldn't know if you'd been exposed to a legal dose or a lethal dose.

              3. Alan J. Wylie

                Re: Watch out for geological samples

                coal-burning power stations

                Otto Frisch: founder of the first company I worked for and one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, who also spent time at Los Alamos and worked alongside Feynman, wrote this satirical article: On the Feasibility of Coal-Driven Power Stations

                1. Grinning Bandicoot

                  Where have all these papers have gone.

                  Since a Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown and Design of a Postal Input Buffer System I enjoyed this material so thanks for bringing to my attention. Will be forwarding to a couple of nuke operators. The world needs more of this humor!

      2. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Watch out for geological samples

        Well, I guess that saved you a trip to the second hand shop...

      3. GrumpenKraut

        Re: Watch out for geological samples

        > old clock dial with luminous markings painted (we assumed) with a radium sulphide/zinc sulphide paint.

        You assumed correctly. Fun experiment: let the phosphorescence disappear by storing it for several hours in a dark place. Then look at it (still in a dark-ish place!) through a strong magnifying glass. You an see the individual events of radiation-->microscopic flashes. Quite a pretty sight.

        Not approved by today's safety standards, of course.

      4. swm Silver badge

        Re: Watch out for geological samples

        In college my radium wrist watch was a stronger emitter was stronger than any sample they let the undergraduates play with. None of the permitted sources would saturate a geiger counter but my watch demonstrated the effect perfectly. After the at people started to edge away from me for some reason.

        1. Nick Kew

          Re: Watch out for geological samples

          There was a story floating around in the 1970s about a consignment of luminous watches that was due to be disposed of at Windscale/Sellafield, before someone pointed out that the radiation levels were higher than they could legally handle. They had to be sent to Aldermaston instead.

          Around that time my schoolboy self inherited a luminous watch from my grandfather. On dark nights, it could be the brightest thing around, and occasionally served as a torch on the country lanes where for a mad year or two I used to jog.

          1. Alan J. Wylie

            Re: Watch out for geological samples

            consignment of luminous watches

            Trimphone dials in the version I heard.

            There was definitely an prosecution resulting from their disposal at Aldermaston.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Watch out for geological samples

        "[...] an old clock dial with luminous markings painted (we assumed) with a radium sulphide/zinc sulphide paint."

        Women were employed to paint those dials. Then it was discovered they had a habit of licking the end of their brush to make a fine point.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Watch out for geological samples

        "an old clock dial with luminous markings painted (we assumed) with a radium sulphide/zinc sulphide paint.

        In the 1950s had (presumably war surplus) torches that had a thin 30mm disc of luminous material instead of a lens.

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Watch out for geological samples

        I used to work for a Nuclear Power Plant.

        Tale 1. Involves me.

        We went to check some leaking valve, in a room with a known leakage of radioactive Xenon, (in gas form, pure). We did as told, as we left, the safety tech inspected us with a geiger counter. We didn't sit, touch or lean anywhere, so we were good.

        Except we weren't.

        - He said "blow on the geiger counter". It pegged on the 100 counts-per-second. From the soft popcorn-ending background noise, it went straight into beehive noise.

        - He changed to 1000 cps backscale. "Blow again". Pegged.

        - 10000 cps now. "Blow again". Went into the 7000's.

        "Now boys, take off your shirts, and go vent yourselves in that plenum HVAC room, straight into the active carbon filters. Stay there for some 4 hours". So we were 4 dudes, shirts off, shooting the 4 degrees Celsius breeze in a windy room, with an humongous helical fan spinning pretty slowly at 90 decibels on the opposite side.

        It was humbling and hilarious at the same time. Will never forget how cold it was for 4 straight hours at 4º C. You can't tell your lungs are flooded with Xenon, at all. Good thing it was Xenon, not reacting to anything else in your body.

        Tale number 2. Our own radiological protection officer wanted to get in the NPP, but the portals were alarming on him, before entering, which is weird. (He uses this in his instruction class, of course.)

        Standard procedure, he took off all his personal belongings to go through a X-ray-like machine, just as the things you get on an airport. He is clean.

        His recently acquired keychain, bought on the beach, wasn't. It was made of a natural radioactive ore mix. It was not releasing dust, in fact it was painted, but the portals went nuts with it.

        Other objects he tested positive were gas mantles (that cloth), other types of keychain, and even dark beach sand had strong isotopes on some places, over 400 cps above background.

        That beach, for example, could never had a Nuclear Power Plant installed near it, as the alarms would trigger permanently.

        So you never know where and how you get radioactive objects, or gasses.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Watch out for geological samples

      A friend worked at Fermilab and his mentor died, so he was cleaning out his desk.

      He came across a sample of Trinitite, which is the glassy remains from the Trinity atomic blast. it was *seriously* radioactive.

      It was stored in the middle desk drawer and had supposedly been there 30+ years. His mentor died of stomach cancer, so you couldn't help but wonder if the two were related.

  12. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Played draughts with some 5*9s gold once

    Cant remember why* but these little cylinders of 99.999% gold were used in our chip making process and it seemed like a good idea until after a few moves you couldn't tell who was who and marking them was out of the question.

    * cant remember why we played chequers!

    1. Killfalcon

      Re: Played draughts with some 5*9s gold once

      Why Checkers? Well, I'd think Chess would be right out of the question if you can't mark them.

  13. Christoph

    Very similar story

    I was once told (by an engineer colleague who'd done some work there) of a place that made very high-grade relays with platinum tips on the contacts.

    A V60 (very large) reel of platinum wire went missing. A panicked search eventually found the cleaner who had needed something to stand on to reach a high window.

  14. Jess--

    A distant relative was stationed overseas after the end of ww2 and ended up where the german subs were being decommissioned.

    On his return to the UK a lot of his friends had souvenirs confiscated (guns etc) but all he had on him were a standard kit bag (no extras), 1 packet of cigarettes, 1 lighter and one matchbox.

    The matchbox bought a farm outright and paid for livestock.

    It was packed solid with platinum contacts that had been removed from switchgear on the german subs

    1. TRT Silver badge

      You see? Sherlock Holmes would have immediately questioned why a smoker had both a lighter AND a box of matches.

    2. Sceptic Tank
      Paris Hilton

      Quick check reveals the volume of a matchbox is 30cm^3. Stuffed with platinum, that would weigh 640 grams. So the guy in charge of checking the souvenirs did not notice a matchbox weighing 640 grams? Never opened it neither? Weird.

      1. Remy Redert

        Probably didn't bother checking it because it was a matchbox? Too small to stuff anything dangerous or particularly illegal in.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Stealing mercury

            Must have been mad as a hatter.

          2. M. Poolman

            Also I think from the place where the bloke took some platinum mesh home to make a trellis.

          3. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge

            Mercury, and Titanium

            When I was a kid, my father worked for the Medical Research Council as a Research Instrument Maker at UCL in Gower Street. He often used Mercury in the equipment he made (pressure transducers, etc.) and, as he sometimes worked from home, he brought his raw materials home with him. I can remember a small brown ceramic bottle full of the stuff, it was extremely heavy and fun to play with. Dad's only comment was not to lose any of it, as he would have to get some more if I did.

            When I was an apprentice, we had a cigarette machine that took the new 50p coins. One of the apprentices put one in the copy holder of the big copying milling machine, and machined a bar of Titanium to the same cross section. The bar was then put on a lathe and parted off to make false 50p pieces, at whatever value, and used to buy cigarettes. The vending machine operator complained volubly that his machine was full of "worthless metal discs", and refused to refill the machine. Head of Trade School had all of us on the carpet and demanded that we clubbed together to reimburse the cigarette company for their "loss", but no mention was made of the lost value of the Titanium bar, or where its swarf had gone.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Mercury, and Titanium

              " I can remember a small brown ceramic bottle full of the stuff, it was extremely heavy and fun to play with.

              In the 1960s when we were 12/13 years old our Physics teacher taught us about density and Archimedes Principle etc. He poured mercury into a beaker on the bench for us to feel the weight of the liquid metal - and we had fun chasing tiny quicksilver beads across the bench.

              The lab technician made audio wave demonstration glass tubes by taking apart dead fluorescent tubes and cleaning off the phosphor coating.

              In the 1930s my mother was a painter of ceramic flower bowls. She related that one day one of her workmates had a discoloured gold wedding ring after she had washed her hands. Someone had used the sink for washing off some mercury after renovating a mirror.

              1. Paul Cooper

                Re: Mercury, and Titanium

                In 1971, I had a pre-University job in the laboratories of the Coal Tar Research Association, now long defunct; the writing was on the wall when I was there, as coal tar is a by-product of the even then defunct coal gas industry. One of my tasks was tending a mercury still in the corner of the laboratory. This basically works by distilling mercury under vacuum. I hate to think how much mercury leaked out of it! I forget what we used mercury for, but distilling dirty mercury to recover it was part of our routine operations. That laboratory wouldn't have lasted five minutes in these H&S conscious days. After all, coal tar itself is pretty evil stuff, full of nasty carcinogenic chemicals. Of course, we handled it in the open laboratory, often heating it over open flames! We used solvents like toluene and trichlorethylene to clean things - both brought in by the 45 gallon drum! Of course, we were handling very hot equipment a lot of the time, so we wore asbestos gloves... And some of the procedures were downright dangerous - I have a scar to this day from an accident where I was lucky not to lose my little finger.

            2. Jess--

              Re: Mercury, and Titanium

              It seems a lot of places with decent engineering capabilities churned out some variation of the 50P coins when they were first introduced, a "rumour" I heard was of a large facility near Hemel that dedicated almost an entire week of night shifts to mass producing passable copies and that at the end of the week all of the dies and cutters set up for the job were destroyed.

              of course the fakes absolutely flooded the local area but were being accepted everywhere (because the fake coins outnumbered the genuine coins the genuine coins were suspected of being fakes).

              About a month later the police visited the facility with a message along the lines of "We know it was you, You know it was you, but we can't prove it.... just don't do it again"

          4. Luiz Abdala

            A certain James Bond movie... a Rolls Royce made of gold....

  15. chivo243 Silver badge

    Why do I get the feeling...

    ...I've heard this before? Not the platinum part, the story about me being in a story and me not remembering it...

  16. Mr Army

    Odd metal posts

    Our house used to belong to a lovely old Physical Archeology Professor - one of the instigators of ground resistance surveying - he left us the most wonderful garden which had been his pride and joy. I was intrigued by a lot of pale metallic green coloured posts used as plant supports and netting supports in various parts of the garden, probably about a dozen or so. An old University friend who had actually been a student under the Professor and had been to the house (the University buried pigs in the garden with items of clothing and students of forensic archeology would come and dig them up every few years to study how the clothing had been affected to help date bodies found on the moors) anyway, he was able to tell me that the posts were no-longer needed titanium nuclear fuel rod test samples donated to the Professor by the Head of Physics.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I once used a hand grenade to block a door.

    Was the most convenient thing around and worked good enough. Only it stuck to the underside of the bloody door when I picked it up again and sheared half the safety off. Even made a funny "twing" I´ll never forget in my life.




    Threw it onto the firing range, but none of us dared to pull the remaing safety.

  18. Sequin

    I worked on a job to put a stock control system into the organisation that installed and repaired emergency service radio systems in the UK - from transmitter masts to handheld police radios and everything in between. As part of the job a large team was brought in one weekend to blitz the stores, doing a stocktake, so accurate figures could be entered for the go live date. As they were offering large amounts of overtime I was happy to join the team.

    While working our way through the stores, myself and my partner were working through the manual stock catalogue, identifying and counting items. One of the items listed was 1/2 inch tape, so we were looking for rolls of insulating or gaffer tape, but what we found were rolls of coper strip, 1/2 inch thick, 1 inch wide and approximately 30 feet long, rolled up into something that was about 3 feet in diameter. It was in fact the conductors used for earth straps for lightning conductors on radio masts and antennae. Each roll required two of us to carry them, and we found them stashed in dark corners near the exits, presumably ready for sneaking off to the local scrap metal dealer.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      New twist on "stock taking".

      Either that or you had one hell of a problem with slugs coming in.

    2. xeroks


      A colleague used to work in the software part of an engineering works. She discovered, after she spent a day disposing of a lot of outdated manuals, that all their bins were weighed before heading towards the dump.

      Apparently there had been a number of cases where large lumps of copper had been purloined using a bin & retrieve method.

      The stupid thing was that these had thousands of pounds worth of precision machining done on them, and so the scrap value was a tiny percentage of their value.

      1. ckm5

        Re: thiefses

        Reminds me of a friend that had a cast iron engine head stolen from his van, probably $10 of scrap value. The thing was, there was $3000 of machining in the that head and it had the magic max power set of machining for a race car.... The iron of this is that he had put $100 in cash in the glove box specifically to discourage anyone from stealing the head!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: thiefses

          And one of my (for some reason now former) colleagues who used to do the spec's for our tools. They have a power box down in the basement, wired with chunky copper cabling (3-phase power) up to the tool main body.

          In some locations this distance could be >20m, but the spec used to allow up to 50m, so invariably the full 50m used to get ordered. It was of course then cut to length on-site, and suddenly there was this large pile of "spare" coppy cabling sitting around.

          Of course it never used to sit around for that long en-route to some of the less reputable scrap dealers in the area, but we did often wonder how the hell it all got moved given how much it weighed.

      2. Sequin

        Re: thiefses

        My dad used to work in a Ford car plant. Some of the workers had a system where they would take alloy wheels, fitted with performance tyres, up on to the roof of the factory. They would then roll them off the 50 foot drop and they would hit the ground and bounce over the perimeter fence onto a nearby railway line. Accomplices would be waiting to collect them.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A tale was told by older members of our radio club - who in the 1960s were pillars of the establishment.

      Just after the war the UK government was scrapping large quantities of state-of-the-art US-built radio equipment.

      Having discovered the whereabouts of a disposal site they piled into their Austin 7 - with red fuel in the tank. Shortly after starting off they were flagged down by a policeman - which made them especially nervous as there was also a revolver under the seat. Relief all round when he asked for a lift for a couple of miles - while standing on the running board.

      Arriving at the disposal site there was a solitary workman putting a sledgehammer through pristine radio receivers - and then dropping them down an old mine shaft. In spite of their verbal pleas and inducements he refused to turn his back and "miss" even one. It broke their hearts.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have a nice rounded (and very heavy) wooden cylinder that I use as a paperweight, it was my grandfathers ... turns out it's a bearing blank from a WW1 submarine. He was an engineer back then - the fun thing about it is that it's wood - but if you drop it into a bucket of water it sinks to the bottom.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Sounds like it's a casting blank/former used to shape the cavity in the mold. They used to be made from very hardwearing dense woods as pounding the sand around it to form the mold takes its toll and making the formers is a painstaking job. It's probably some form of Ironwood, which is (by definition) denser than water and thus sinks.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      That would be lignum vitae wood, famously used on the shaft bearings of the USS Nautilus - the world's first nuclear submarine - as well as many other vessels up to the 1960s.

      1. herman Silver badge

        Old high tech...

        Ironwood was commonly used as shaft bearings for pretty much all wagons and rolling stock since the wheel was invented till the mid 20th century. The wheel bearing grease, was usually made of honey and fat/oil and later sugar and petroleum.

    3. TRT Silver badge

      it's wood - but if you drop it into a bucket of water it sinks to the bottom

      Witch! Does it weigh more than a duck?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: it's wood - but if you drop it into a bucket of water it sinks to the bottom

        Depends upon how large your wood is, and how large the duck is. If you're asking if it is more dense than a duck, well that depends upon how much lead shot is in the duck.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: it's wood - but if you drop it into a bucket of water it sinks to the bottom

          "{...] depends upon how much lead shot is in the duck.

          At an office New Year's dinner in Africa the menu had several local items that seemed quite exotic. The ragout of impala was tough as old boots. A colleague had a game bird. Judging by the eventual amount of lead shot on his plate - it had been a close-up blasted sitting duck.

  20. The Real Tony Smith

    But of course to an RF Engineer's eyes, the RF cages were worth far more that the platinum bar was.

  21. JimC

    Not quite forgotten but...

    I have only the dimmest of memories of the day I found the cat had peed in my guitar case, but I recently found out that my social circle at the time have told and retold the story, and at least one of them recounts a version of the tale as being one of the three funniest incidents he's ever experienced...

    1. DiViDeD

      Re: Not quite forgotten but...

      Same here. The tale of my son, at 3 years old, 'feeding' my Revox cassette deck with fruit pastilles (open the door/mouth, put a sweetie on it, press the button, deck closes its 'mouth', reopens - sweetie has been eaten) came back to me via an acquaintance a few months back as 'You'll never believe this, but this guy's toddler...'

      The incident happened in the UK, it was rel;ated to me in Australia. And my son is 38 now.

      Ah, the power of internet communication!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not quite forgotten but...

      An old colleague used to spread a story around about me having chainsawed off the branch of a tree and fell out of said tree because the branch was the one I was standing on. Apparently it didn't matter that this was total bollocks, I was standing on the branch underneath it which just gave way :) Still about a 20ft drop though. I think that was the last time I bounced.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Platinum Crucibles

    We had 2 stories about platinum crucibles. The first was about where you kept them. Officially they should have been in a safe, but in practice they were left uncleaned at the back of a fume cupboard as this was felt to not draw attention to their value...

    Since we worked for a government funded body, we had a financial allocation for each year and we had to spend it all, or the allocation would be reduced for the next year as we obviously didn't need it all. Of course this made life a bit tricky if you needed to buy something quite expensive, as you couldn't carry anything over. On one occasion we needed something expensive from Griffin and George, so they were asked what they had that was expensive that we could trade back in next year towards what we actually needed. The answer was platinum crucibles. Problem solved.

    1. the hatter

      Re: Platinum Crucibles

      On a good year, your department could even make a profit on that sort of transaction.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Forgetful and perhaps unobservant

    Most Pt refiners stamp (or mint) ingots, so unless the bar had been remelted it should have been instantly recognisable to the techie, as it was to the MD.

    Anonymous, as no-one's getting _my_ hoard.

  24. John Savard

    Asteroid Mining

    Let us hope that someday, thanks to asteroid mining and perhaps self-replicating robots, the day will come when we can all use bars of platinum... as paperweights. Rubber wedges are probably still a more optimal material to use as doorstops.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Asteroid Mining

      "Rubber wedges are probably still a more optimal material to use as doorstops."

      That may well be true, but I don't think you can mine rubber from asteroids.

  25. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

    A Long Time Ago In A Electronics Factory

    I was working as a test tech, one of my older fellows told how returned to the village where he grew up & popped into the local pub for a pint, where he was recognised by someone he went to school with, but a few years younger than him so not in the same social circle.

    A few beers & swapping tales later (Probably....I mean definately involving girls, ciggie's, virginity losing, haystacks & other "Cider with Rosie" type scenarios) when the guy piped up with...

    "Do you remember when you set fire to one of Farmer Jones haystacks?

    Amazed & confused he replied

    "No I didn't!"

    "C'mon the whole village knew it was you, you left the village two days later, he's dead now so you might as well admit it."

    "It really wasn't me!"




    It bugged him as he left the pub & for a while afterwards, that his name had been abused in that way by the whole village for years afterwards.

    Flame icon as it looks like a exploding haystack.

    1. Stevie

      Re: A Long Time Ago In A Electronics Factory

      I once worked for an agency where one of the staff put it about that I wandered across the Mexican/US border sans passport and cost the agency a fortune in flights from Mexico to London to NY once the passport had been retrieved and sent back.

      Protests that I had never been south of Florida or west of Texas fell on deaf ears. Someone in our department did pull that stupid stunt, but it was the office "pretty boy" and the agency staffer had a non-gay man-crush on him.

      Same bloke got me a roasting from our mutual boss over a balls-up that happened in New York while I was on a two week vacation in the UK. I waited until the rant was over before pointing out the geographical situation, which in those days pre-interwebs'n'cell phones only left The Boss looking at the pretty one and himself in the frame (and let's face it, it wasn't going to be him).

    2. Sir Runcible Spoon

      Re: A Long Time Ago In A Electronics Factory

      People used to make up all sorts of stories about me in the village where I grew up.

      It never bothered me because

      a) the stories weren't true and

      b) they neatly overlooked all the stuff that *was* true (which were much worse) that didn't get around

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A Long Time Ago In A Electronics Factory

      "It bugged him as he left the pub & for a while afterwards, that his name had been abused in that way by the whole village for years afterwards."

      BBC Radio4 had a Book of the Week that was a fictional account of someone returning to their small outback town. He found that he was still regarded by many as a the perpetrator of a young woman's murder that happened just before he left. The principle accusers were the girl's family. The man was now a big city detective - and eventually he proved that the murder was committed and covered up by the girl's family.

  26. dmacleo

    all I ever found....

    was some unobtanium....

  27. J. Cook Silver badge

    There was the one time back in 2001 when I took a line card from work with me home so I could take it with on a late-night flight to somewhere to swap it into a switch where one had failed. The line card was worth more than the house.

  28. Justthefacts Silver badge

    Stamp duty

    Might be off-topic, but.....

    In the dim and distant past, age 16, I did a couple weeks work experience for a solicitor. As office dogsbody, I was given the task of getting the stamp duty paid for some property transactions at the government office. At the time (probably no longer) “stamp duty” involved getting physical stamps (very similar to letter stamps) and affixing to the document. Just like letter stamps, these are negotiable items, and have their physical value. So, for £1M commercial property transactions, I would be buying stamps with negotiable value £50k, using bankers draft, sticking them in my inside pocket, and going back to the office on the bus. Security by obscurity! I ranked considerably below tea boy.....

  29. astounded1

    Platinum In The Boot

    My now deceased Uncle Karl was a top metals engineer who'd been brought on by a firm that was working on top-secret materials for the NASA Apollo spaceflight project. One Saturday when we were visiting his home, he brought me out into the drive where his car was parked. He popped open the boot, rustled around and handed me a heavy brick of silver metal. He had a few of them in there, haphazardly dumped in the boot bottom, covered over by a canvas tarpaulin.

    "Do you know what that is?" he asked.

    "Ummm, lead," I ventured.

    "No. It's platinum. It's worth more than gold." This was in the days when Sean Connery was still playing Bond and who could forget Goldfinger? Especially the parts where Jill Masterson is painted gold, or when Bond drops the bar of Nazi gold on the golf green?

    I was impressed but confused. "Why are you carrying it around in the boot?" I asked.

    Now, he drove a typical genius engineer's ride - a tan ford with a few dents and scratches. It was a completely unremarkable and rather ugly four-door sedan.

    "Who is going to try to steal anything from this?" he asked me, laughing.

    He shut the boot and I have never forgot that moment.

    My uncle was a real secret agent. It also proves, as does this story, that materials engineers aren't exactly careful with, well, their materials.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have been webmaster and editor of our old school's website for many years. Once in a while a peer contacts me - and we exchange a couple of nostalgic emails. The strange thing is that I am apparently the only one who remembers some of their "sexual" escapades. I call it "moral amnesia". Pity - it would be nice to know the full stories behind what they intimated in school. The website archives - even if unpublished - will eventually be lodged with the city museum for a warts and all view of our era.

    One wartime old boy was unusually candid in his teenage recollection about an accommodating girl cousin. He insisted it should be published on the site - with his name - as "the wife and the vicar will never read it".

  31. KBeee Silver badge

    Thinking of gold bars, I was once told a story by an old guy that used to work for the London Electricity Board. He said that years ago (so that must have been late 50's, early 60's) he and his mate had been doing a job in one of the electrical substations in the basement of the Bank of England. Security there ran along the lines of signing in at the front desk, then being escorted down to the substation, where the security guy would stand outside the substation door while they were working inside. If you needed to use the toilet another security man would be called to escort you to the toilet and back. One day while they were working 2 security men entered the substation and said "You'll have to stay here for a few minutes lads"


    "America is lending $4,000,000 to France"

    "What does that have to do with us?"

    "Well, down here France has a vault, and the USA has a vault, and the loan means moving $4,000,000 of gold bullion from the American vault to the French vault, which is what we're doing now."

    Fuck knows if that is how it was actually done back in the day, but I like to think of little trollies of gold bars being trundled around basements as an Internation Loan. Also interesting to think how worthless $4,000,000 is nowadays - A small flat in Chelsea?

  32. hoofie


    When I worked at a semiconductor plant many years ago, platinum targets were used in the sputtering machines to coat the silicon wafers in platinum which was used as a contact layer between the silicon and the aluminuim interconnects on the wafer surface. The targets then in 1986 were 5 figures in quid and the size of a paperback.

    Anyway the sputter chamber [which use plasma to convert the platinum into a vapour which condenses on the silicon and was about 2x the size of an oven] ended up coated in platinum which needs to be carefully removed by technicians. It turned out said technicians were hiding the extremely thin platinum shavings in their bunny suits and then selling it to a dodgy scrap dealer in the town. This was scientific grade platinum which is much purer than bullion.

    Also re the value of wafers in production. An engineer once put a wafer carrier with 25 wafers in a box in a centrifuge but didn't locate them properly. When it spun up the inevitable happened - tinkle tinkle [silicon wafers are EXTREMELY brittle as they are crystalline. The problem was this was test batch for a production line commisioning which meant rather a lot of machine time and efforts ended up in fragments. He was not popular...

    1. Unicornpiss
      Paris Hilton

      Redneck transport

      Not all that long ago we had to take around 50 assorted brand new laptop computers, including some Precision mobile workstations about 10 miles from a facility where they were delivered by mistake to where they should be. With no suitable vehicle available, we enlisted an aged and abused pickup truck borrowed from our maintenance department. We crammed the truck bed with laptop boxes from end to end and had just enough room left to wedge in the cart we brought to move them by the tailgate.

      At some point driving back it occurred to me we had about $70K worth of machines in a vehicle that was worth about 1/100th of that, or that we could trade 1 workstation for 2-3 similar vehicles.

      Paris, because she also probably has a high-end laptop.

  33. Fazal Majid

    During the WWII Manhattan Project, copper was hard to come by, and they needed huge amounts of conductors for the electromagnets in the uranium refineries. So they used silver from the Federal Reserve instead. 6000 tons of it:

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    National network crash

    A couple years ago I was told the story of how, in the very early days of the commercial internet, "some overseas guy" had built a monolithic driver for multiplayer Doom (which only supported local IPX at the time) that would "translate" to route over a SNA network. Apparently it worked phenomenally well, and techies used the govt service network to play Doom with each other across the country. Until a weird a race condition caused each node in turn to drop like dominoes and the whole thing went down (govt, medical, insurance, banking, etc). The only way to fix it was apparently to kill all nodes for 48 hours (something about lease expiry) so the country went dark for 2 days.

    "Wow" I said, "imagine that! Who would be so crazy as to do something like that?!"

    Who indeed?

  35. ColinTheFish

    Allegedly a similar thing happed at Johnson Matthey

    When I went for an interview at Johnson Matthey (The precious metal experts) back in the early 90s, a tale was regaled where somebody had once used a block of platinum as a very expensive doorstop, for a while before somebody realised what they were using. They use plenty of precious metals there, like platinum, which are used as catalysts. This is not going to happen now-days so much considering it's impact on their assets value / cash-flow.

    Similarly allegedly our local dive club, associated with BAe, had some titanium alloy underwater hockey goals, in fact they were aluminium alloy, so rather cheaper.

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