back to article A word to the Wyse: Smoking cigars in the office is very bad for you... and your monitor

Dark Mode is all the rage nowadays, but screens of the blackest black go back further than you might think, as we'll discover in another episode of On Call. Today's story comes from "Keith" and takes us to the era of Wyse terminals and foot-long cigars in the workplace. Keith was gainfully employed at a small financial data …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh, the filth....

    I used to be a "technician" at a fruity based company....

    We often had iMacs come in where the screen was "working mens club" yellow..... With customers complaining. Thing is, the iMacs have 3 substantial fans: Power supply, HDD and Logic board. These things suck from the bottom of the imac and chuck it out of the slot across the top.

    If you've an ash tray sat right beneath the imac, then......

  2. Andytug

    Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

    Even one that had had lager spilt into it smelt better.

    One possibly worse....way back when I was at college a fellow student got a maintenance job at the local amusement park, sorting out all the arcade machines. It was when the "sit inside" machines like Star Wars and the tank battle one were popular. However the manufacturers chose under the seat as a good place to put some of the mainboards, which is fine until a Very Young Person decides to sit in there, play around with the controls and have a "little accident".

    Seems urine is very good at attacking solder, so not only was there a bad smell but the board was trashed..

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

      Coke is another effective way of destroying motherboards. Had a nearly new laptop trashed because the user was careless enough to spill coke in it and stupid enough to not admit it until it was too late. The keyboard, mother board and screen all got a good dose so it was beyond economic repair.

      The one that had soup in it* we managed to recover except for a new screen!

      *User put laptop and container of soup in the same bag, recipe for disaster from the start.

      1. 0laf Silver badge

        Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

        Yep anything fizzy or fruity was death to electronics. If someone said they'd spilt coke, irn bru (possibly better than coke at dissolving electronics) or fruit juice normally we'd just say it was dead and not to bother. If it ever started working again it was always temporary, the sugar and acid would kill it soon enough.

        1. Trollslayer

          Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

          Coke contains a trace of phosphoric acid just to jazz things up.

          1. Anonymous Custard

            Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

            I think it's a bit more than a trace.

            From long-ago memory of school chemistry, Coke (at least at the time) was pH2 (water being pH7, anything below is increasingly strong acid, above strong alkali).

            1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

              Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

              The pH scale is logarithmic as well (base 10). Water, with a pH of 7 is an equally good acceptor or donator of protons (H+ ions), as you go down the scale, acids get stronger (such as HCl, which is essentially H+ and Cl-). Coke, with a pH of 2, is 100,000 times as good at "donating" protons than water, and definitely won't play well with things like the tin in solder.

              Plus, because it's full of phosphate ions, it's a pretty good electrical conductor itself, especially when "dried" to form a thin layer on a circuit board.

              If you're lucky, and it hasn't dried on, you can wash it off with pure distilled water, and allow that to dry well in a warm oven, and your electronics *might* come back to life, as long as none of the blue smoke has got out. Pure water is actually a pretty bad electrical conductor, it's the ions in tap-water that conduct electricity.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

                Many years ago a tanker carrying concetrated cola syrup (the stuff they use in pubs that gets added to fizzy water in a pump) overturned on bridge above a motorway. The syrup went everywhere, the motorway remained closed for half a day for resurfacing, and the bridge was closed for 3 years until they took it down and rebuilt it. I don't think they liked the idea of what that much phosphoric acid would do to the metal support structure.

              2. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

                We found in 1980s era printing calculators that the viable survival time for "spilled coke in it" was about 48 hours. beyond that point about 60% weren't fixable - mostly due to the PCB contact tracks being eaten away under the buttons. Everywhere else usually survived well, but jumper wires would start being eaten after a week

                Hot soapy (as in dishwashing detergent) water and a toothbrush solves a lot of issues (then a rinse in clean water, then distilled water then a wash/scrub with IPA before air drying - letting "wet" stuff air dry was usually a corrosion magnet

                One of the largest IPA suppliers in the UK told me his biggest customers are mobile phone repair houses as this is STILL the standard way of dewatering a drowned device

              3. jake Silver badge

                Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

                "Coke, with a pH of 2"

                Classic Coke's pH is 2.37, Pepsi 2.39 and RC Cola 2.32 ... Found here. (Warning: PDF)

        2. Rob Daglish

          Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

          Parker Quink used to be very conductive. I remember being on work experience and seeing the after effects of an office break in where some scrote had poured in over keyboards and CRT monitors.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

            "Parker Quink used to be very conductive.

            We had a table covering that had a thick textured pattern of various coloured silk pile. At some point someone had spilt Quink on it - probably me doing my homework. The result was a black - totally bald - area.

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

          For some reason when I was a callow youth it was printing calculators and coffee - with LOTS of sugar

          They were always recoverable via a bucket of hoat soapy water and toothbrush IF the customer didn't leave it a week before bringing it in (several did)

          The printers were separated before dunking and virtually always always gummed up badly from ribbon gunk so a ghood cleanup inariably resulted in them going back working ten times better than they arrived.

          These days it wouldn't be economic but these things were a few hundred pounds/dollars piece at the time, so putting a a $4/hour apprentice was a worthwhile investment (and we learned how the fiddly mechanical bits worked)

      2. aje21

        Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

        Remember helping someone explain that "OK, you have spilled coffee on your keyboard - do you take sugar" was not a wind-up. Black coffee was not so bad, with sugar and cream...

        1. GlenP Silver badge

          Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

          I will claim the 5th Amendment over a cup of coffee that landed inside a CRT monitor. Good job it didn't have sugar in so after drying out overnight it worked perfectly.

          1. PTW

            Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

            We used to use the CRT monitors to keep colleagues breakfast butties warm if they were out on a call when we did the canteen run.

            It's Friday, have one for reminding me of happy times ----->

        2. not.known@this.address

          Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

          "Black coffee was not so bad, with sugar and cream..."

          So, a white coffee then?

          We have laptop/hybrid things that we use in the office in case we need to get sent home (keyworkers, y'know...) and we all have these nice shiny USB keyboards cos the ones on the laptops are too fricking small to use properly. One of my co-workers recently spilt diet coke on her keyboard and tipped it up to try to get the fizzy gloop out... only where most people would tip the top towards them, she tipped the bottom away - and straight onto the laptop behind it.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

        *User put laptop and container of soup in the same bag, recipe for disaster

        Nice unintentional pun..


      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

        Back in my PFY days, we had a sheepish looking user being in a keyboard that looked like a Salvador Dali painting. They had spilled a bottle of Mountain Dew on the keyboard. To clean the residue, they tried electric contact cleaner. The cleaner they used did not react well with the plastic.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

          Used a contact cleaner on the family transistor radio - probably to fix a noisy volume control. A little dropped on the clear plastic of the wavelength window produced a reticulation effect.

          I once damaged a favourite 35mm slide by washing it in warm water with washing up liquid. Instant reticulation.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

            "probably to fix a noisy volume control."

            This almost NEVER worked for more than a couple of weeks

            My go to reliable fix was dismantling the potentiometer and using a 2B or 4B pencil on the track. it would put just enough graphite down to kill the crackle without affecting the overall resistance

      5. VicMortimer Silver badge

        Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

        Good thing it wasn't cabbage soup.

        I once dealt with a PowerBook 520c that had an encounter with a bowl of cabbage soup. The user managed to pull the battery and power pretty quickly, but it was already too late. Several traces on the logic board were just gone, and there was a lovely layer of green corrosion on quite a few more.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

          A friend had a small battery radio in her bathroom. The various push buttons were on the section that laid flat on a shelf intended for toothbrushes etc. After a few years she reported it had stopped working. Apparently the culmination of various push-buttons gradually becoming unreliable until they had failed altogether. Fortunately I had a spare one of the same model - and she was happy again.

          On taking it apart - several circuit board tracks that connected to the button conductive pads were just green traces. The result of condensation seeping through the button holes. Soldered some small lengths of very fine bare wire to replace the tracks - as the board's contact surface was almost flush to the case. It has been my bedside radio ever since. Next time I would use conducting glue rather than fiddle with soldering very fine bare wires into place.

      6. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

        At one employers I was the person with IT responsibilities at a satellite office. There were mostly very non technical people in that office and they dreaded my holidays. So one week off I return to a package addressed to me waiting in the post. As I opened it to discover a laptop the manager appeared and confessed. Between her and another staff member they had managed to spill a large glass of water into a company laptop via the keyboard. Panicked about what to do they had:

        Pulled the power cable and battery,

        Mopped the keyboard with a cloth,

        Turned the thing on the side to drain it,

        Whilst still on the side they put a hairdryer on full heat pointing at the keyboard.

        They then left this for 15 minutes to dry out.

        The keys then deformed and started to melt where the air was hottest. More panic set in at this point and they called head office who put another one in the post. She hadn't called anyone else because she thought she could be clever and fix it herself. After that an email from myself was sent to all staff at the office and posted on the noticeboard in the kitchen about what to do if liquids were spilled again. They were particularly surprised when I suggested flushing the offending article with distilled water. At the bottom of the email was an instruction in bright red and a very large font saying that On no account were hairdryers to be used with the heat on. Manager hit reply all to my email saying that I was now banned from taking any holiday in case it happened again.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

      When I was on tech support for a large retailer, we took numerous 'accidental damage' calls for laptops.

      Spilled juice and various beverages were common, but two standouts were the ones with missing key covers - one, where someone's parrot had allegedly picked them off, and the other where someone's poodle had 'attacked it while I left it turned on in front of the fire while I was in the kitchen'.

      But the best one was the chap who called in about 'water damage'. And this is an absolutely true story, with no embellishment of the dialogue which took place.

      Eager to ascertain the likely degree of damage in order to plan the best way forward, I asked how much water had got into it.

      Customer: Well, quite a lot.

      Me: A glass full?

      Customer: No, more than that.

      Me: Well, where is the computer now?

      Customer: It's in the garden pond.

      I was still vainly hoping it might be recoverable. So I asked how deep the pond was.

      Customer: About 3 feet.

      Apparently his 15- or 17-year old daughter had thrown it in (specifically 'thrown'). I was itching to ask why, but decided it was probably best not to know or get involved.

      1. FloridaBee

        Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

        Wise move. NEVER question why a hormonal teenage girl does anything. That way leads to disaster.

      2. MarkSitkowski

        Re: Don't think there's anything worse than the motherboard of a smoker's laptop...yuk

        That merely demonstrates the poor quality of modern electronics.

        Many years ago, when I worked for Tektronix, I went into the service department for some reason, and saw a guy with a hose, with which he was enthusiastically hosing one of our 475 series oscilloscopes.

        On inquiring what was going on, I was informed that the scope had been on a geophysical survey vessel, from which it had fallen into the sea and, if it hadn't been for the mains lead, it would have been lost forever.

        Wishing him luck, I went back to my office, but curiosity forced me to return, just as he was putting away the insulation shrinker (it's like a hair dryer). He plugged in the scope, turned it on, then flicked a few switches to prove it still worked perfectly, and tied a "Repair Complete" tag to it..

        Laptop makers could learn something here.

    3. Falmari Silver badge
      IT Angle

      Urine colled.

      @ Andytug “Seems urine is very good at attacking solder” also it can be used as a replacement for water in water cooling.

      Before computing I used to be a welder and at one place, I worked I did all the Aluminium welding using TIG its like gas welding but using an electrical arc. One day after while welding I get the strong smell of piss. I could find nothing wrong the TIG plant worked fine.

      After a few days of this I finally found what was causing the smell. Then TIG plant was water-cooled just tap water. It ran all the way up the torch around the nozzle and back down to the plant. At the back of the plant is a reservoir with a steel lid that can be removed to top up the water. But the tank no longer contained water it was mainly piss.

      It seems that some lazy git on nights had decided that the toilet was to far away and the tank was a suitable replacement. So I was holding a touch with two tubes cold urine being pumped up and heated urine going down.

      Once I showed the Forman the tank of piss it stopped not sure how the git on nights emptied the tank as it could not be removed from the plant. But emptied it was along with a notice that the TIG plant was not a urinal.

  3. 45RPM Silver badge

    Back in the day, at my first 'proper' job (as in it was a job that I actually wanted to do, not merely a way of paying the bills), we used VT220s - but I don't remember anyone smoking in the office. Smoking at home? That was another matter - and my ashtray sat right in front of my Compaq Deskpro (sporting 4.77MHz of pure 8086 muscle). Most of the front of the Deskpro was black plastic, and the beige of the case was a kind of tar stained beige anyway - so the effect of my habit was not all that noticeable on the hardware of my computer. But…

    One day I needed to upgrade it - and the inside of the case and the motherboard were beginning to get brown and tacky with tar. The thought occurred to me that if that was what my computer was like on the inside, what kind of state must I now be in? A worrying thought. So began the first of a few false starts on the road to giving up, and turning the addictive side of my personality to something more constructive - Triathlon and Marathon in my case. I don't think that the damage that I did all those years ago will ever be entirely undone though.

    1. Tom 7

      I used to pretty much chain smoke when deep diving into problems harder than diamond and my massive (at the time) Hitachi monitor used to take a bit of a pounding. I was desperately trying to speed up some 3d modelling code one night and knocked over my 18 year old scotch from the SMWS that had enough peat in it to grow spuds. A drop of it hit the screen which I'd recently gone over with a commercial screen wipe and, to my surprise, left a really clean spot.I quickly retrieved the wipe and soaked up the remains of the scotch (that I hadn't managed to suck off the desk) and cleaned the screen with it. It was far better than the wipe on its own and I put it in a sealed container and used it several times. Not only did it provide superior cleaning it tended to send me to the whisky cabinet which I liked to think helped solve coding problems.

      1. BenDwire Silver badge

        The whisky cabinet which I liked to think helped solve coding problems

        or as I called it, "Debugging Spirits"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "[...] send me to the whisky cabinet which I liked to think helped solve coding problems."

        It often works when trying to solve a coding problem that feels like it should be obvious - but you can't see it because of incorrect assumptions. If your brain hasn't slowed down enough after the third glass - then it is time for bed and hope the answer is there on waking.

        In a memorable case it was a 360 assembler string "compare" statement. The compiler was using an implicit comparison length of the longer of the two strings rather than the shorter one.

        1. Mike 16

          Whiskey coding

          Just stay on the right (left) side of the Ballmer Peak

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge


      what kind of state must I now be in

      Many years ago a friend of my Dad was watching TV one evening when one of those medical "your life in their hands" programmes came on. They were operating on someone with lung cancer, and when our friend saw the state of the lung tissue that was being cut out he crumpled up his cigarette packet, threw it on the fire, and never touched a cigarette again.

      1. 45RPM Silver badge

        Re: Incentives...

        That’s some impressive willpower. It took me a few goes. On the other hand, that’s an image that I really didn’t need.

        20 years after my last cig, I seem to be pretty healthy at medicals. How much more healthy would I have been if not for my youthful addiction though?

        1. WonkoTheSane

          Re: Incentives...

          "that’s an image that I really didn’t need."

          Which is precisely why the UK government mandated placing such images on cigarette packets.

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Incentives...

            And as there are different images, there are some who wish to collect them all.

            1. Cynic_999

              Re: Incentives...

              I recall watching someone buying cigarettes who kept asking the till assistant to change the packet for a different one of the same brand.

              "No, that one says it causes lung cancer - don't want that. No, that one causes impotency, don't want that. Ah, this one just causes miscarriages - I'm hardly likely to get pregnant, so I'll take that packet ... "

              1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

                Re: Incentives...

                Man. If I had a couple of grand to blow, I think I would go around to convenience stores doing that just to see the reactions. Wonder what percentage would get it?

                1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

                  Re: Incentives...

                  Some of the Philopines ones have pictures of great big masses of tumours on the tongue & mouth.

          2. TeeCee Gold badge

            Re: Incentives...

            Which is, in turn, why it suddenly became possible to get cigarette cases that hold 20 king size in a variety of finishes.

            I was delighted, as I'd always wanted one. I went through several until I gave up a couple of years ago[1], just to prove that I really could if I could be arsed and shut a few people up. I may take it up again one day, but I can't be bothered right now.

            [1] From somewhere around 15 a day to none overnight. Can't see what the fuss is about myself.

            1. Vometia Munro Silver badge

              Re: Incentives...

              From somewhere around 15 a day to none overnight. Can't see what the fuss is about myself.

              I gave up four times in total, I think. Restarted because I was bored/depressed/daft or some combination thereof. First three goes were easy, I just stopped and that was that. Fourth time was nearly impossible. Nasal spray was the answer: it was disgusting but it worked.

              After all the worrying about cancer it was an early heart attack that nearly got me: apparently trying to treat diabetes by drinking lots of fruit juice wasn't one of my better ideas. I mean lots: "more is more", and all that, so I drank pints of it a day, my rationale being that fruit is good for you so enormous amounts of fruit juice must surely be awesome. Fortunately I got better; even the diabetes has gone, though I do wonder if the absence of IV fruit juice isn't entirely unrelated.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Incentives...

                Regrettably, while FRUIT is good for you, fruit JUICE tends not to be - much less fiber, less vitamins, and a lot higher sugar percentage. Glad to hear the diabetes is gone. That's a tough battle.

              2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: Incentives...

                They say quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health, so if you've done it four times, you ought to be very healthy indeed.

                I've been considering taking it up just so I can quit and get healthier.

              3. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Incentives...

                From somewhere around 15 a day to none overnight. Can't see what the fuss is about myself.

                Well, of course none overnight, you're asleep then!

        2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

          Re: Incentives...

          It's been quite a while since I read this, but after 20 years, you really are pretty much in the clear.

          And your choice of alternative--athletic activity means that you are almost certainly in better shape than if you had skipped both.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Incentives...

            "[...] athletic activity means that you are almost certainly in better shape [...]"

            My brain latched onto "Marathon" - until it realised there isn't a chocolate bar called "Triathlon".

        3. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: Incentives...

          That’s some impressive willpower. It took me a few goes. On the other hand, that’s an image that I really didn’t need.

          20 years after my last cig, I seem to be pretty healthy at medicals. How much more healthy would I have been if not for my youthful addiction though?

          A young ex colleague of mine smoked like a chimney and had done since 16. His reasoning behind this, despite knowing the risks, was that his distant uncle had smoked for years and "Must be nearly 90 by now." Then one Monday he came in looking pale enough that our manager was concerned. He said he'd stopped smoking that morning. When asked for a further explanation he said the family had had word late Sunday night from Canada that his uncle had died. Apparently he was far closer to 60 than 90 but thanks to the ciggies didn't look it. He'd died of undiagnosed lung cancer suspected to be the result of smoking.

          He never touched another one after that.

      2. Whiznot

        Re: Incentives...

        A month ago I saw a YouTube video, Diseases of Civilization, from Dr. Chris Knobbe. From that day until the end of my life I will consume buckets of lard before I eat another drop of industrial seed oil.

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Incentives...

          I would just fact check before making life decisions. Starting with the presenter's name...

    3. Muscleguy

      Statistically the best thing you can do for your health is to stop smoking. Second will be to take up exercise. Sustained deep breathing cleans the lungs out very well. I’m mildly asthmatic and after a layoff I will cough for a few hours after the first run as the fluid in my lungs disturbed by the heavy breathing is brought up and disposed off.

      Regular running keeps my lungs clear. So don’t worry too much, especially since you gave your body time off while at work.

  4. SimonL

    Tar coated CRTs

    Only experienced a couple myself, but ask any TV repairman about CRT TVs from a smokers house.

    You pretty much had to chisel the tar off - very carefully of course!

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Re: Tar coated CRTs

      Ha! Beat me to it.

      I was one of those TV repair guys back in the 60s (well youngster actually). One of the engineers was an amateur chemist and he supplied us all with what he called bogey disposer in squeezy spray bottles. Aim at screen from a safe distance and watch all the crap run down as a thick sludge onto the newspaper you put down for it.

      Ummm, you did need to remember to put that down first.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: Tar coated CRTs

        I had to replace a laptop at a users desk, the keyboard was swapped out by me as a matter of expediency as it felt (Briefly) & looked like it was covered in frequent nasal pickings.

        The other one was when a young school kid lost his lunch over the keyboard in a school, the teacher offered it to me to take back (In a plastic bag) for environmentally friendly electronic waste disposal, on that occasion I declined & left it to the bin men.

        Icon - Long hooter & children.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Tar coated CRTs

          Teenage boy's keyboard intermittent. Remove pubic hairs occasionally jamming a key's travel.

    2. Rob Daglish

      Re: Tar coated CRTs

      I worked for a time providing IT and AV services to two well known high street bookmakers. They used to have some really impressive nicotine stains.

      I remember one particular shop still had CRT TVs in around 2018, and the company I worked for seemed to be endlessly fixing them with varying degrees of success . One replacement arrived, and it was ridiculously bright compared to its neighbours as the workshop had actually cleaned it before sending it out. It was that different to the others, the shop manage was complaining about it. I had to agree, so set about trying to increase the brightness levels on the other screens, but it was no good. My hand brushed against one of the screens, and a half inch of dust and cigarette residue came away from it. Realising the issue at last, I got a duster from behind the counter and ran a line across all the screens on the bottom row of the gantry, stood back and said “I think your cleaner has missed a few bits”.

      Most places I’d have been nicer and cleaned the screens, but this particular shop manager had put a complaint in about one of my previous visits, when my colleague and I had fastened the door back on to the AV cupboard as it was hanging off when we arrived.

  5. Bertieboy

    Clogged Computers

    Those concerned with the detrimental effect of environmental contaminants should try running a computer in a cement plant raw meal production unit ( basically a system for creating dust) I recall Philips ( yes they did make computers in the 70's) taking one mainboard away for their black museum which, although still working, was so coated in raw meal that there were no recognisable components on the board. In another instance, we operated a PDP11/23 in another laboratory that, despite it being in a cabinet with filtered air and being stripped down and completely "cleaned" prior to the arrival of the DEC engineer for it's routine service eventually lost Service support. Suprisingly, the only main issues we ever had were excessive wear on the surface of the floppies.

    1. Ochib

      Re: Clogged Computers

      Not as bad as PCs in crematorium that get full of dust. As you know what that dust is

      1. Dave559

        Re: Clogged Computers

        But don't crematoriums usually have tall chimneys, so that the, uhh, output product gets widely dispersed to the winds and eventually lands in people's gardens where it helps to "push up the daisies", rather than ending up all around the office rooms?

        1. Ochib

          Re: Clogged Computers

          This was the computer in the room where the furnace is. They empty the the furnace in to containers using a brush.

          1. Hobgoblin

            Re: Clogged Computers

            I worked at a place where all the printers used to be called after movies. My favourite was at the crematorium, which was called SomeLikeItHot

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Clogged Computers

          The chimneys handle the smoke and combustion byproducts. The cremains themselves still need to be processed. Even moving them from the (conspicuously labeled) temporary container into an urn stirs up dust.

          Anon because I've likely inhaled a tiny portion of a few people.

          1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

            Re: Clogged Computers

            Word of the day: cremains

      2. Daedalus

        Re: Clogged Computers

        Not as bad as PCs in crematorium that get full of dust. As you know what that dust is

        Ah yes, Keith Richards' favorite nose candy.

        Technically the ordinary household "dust" that can accumulate inside an innocent PC is even more "cadaver" than the remnants of a cremation, which are those common non-combustibles which make up our bodies, calcium, sodium, iron etc. Household dust, however, is largely those skin cells we shed on a daily basis, and usually a mixture of several individuals at that.

    2. Vometia Munro Silver badge

      Re: Clogged Computers

      Some of the Philips computers from that era were quite interesting beasties. The P4000 and P7000 minis were always a bit of a mystery to me (I was the new girl they'd brought in to do stuff with these suspicious new Unix systems) but quite fascinating in their own way. I remember the P7000 had to be coaxed into life from a cold start by using a hairdryer. The P7000 is no doubt long gone but I rescued its hairdryer which I still have lying around somewhere.

      On topic, I remember pretty much everyone at Philips smoked at the time and it was probably the main cause of grubby keyboards which were always a bit... ew. Maybe there was a good reason both the computers and office decor featured a great deal of brown. For a time I was sat just on the other side of a partition to a Frenchman, who was a lovely guy but he chain-smoked Gauloises all day long. The atmosphere was, erm... thick.

    3. Precordial thump Silver badge

      Re: Clogged Computers

      Ceramic packaging?

  6. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

    Ah, that bought back memories...

    Not least of working for a Televideo distributor in the '80s. One of their "terminals" was actually a PC, with an all-in-one motherboard in the bottom of the stand, which talked to the Televideo Novell Netware servers via RS-422 fast serial links. Quite advanced for the day.

    Anyway, one of our customers was a company that maintained London black cabs, in an underground workshop somewhere on the outskirts of central London, I forget where exactly. They had something like 20 bays, and a constant stream of cabs coming and going.

    I went up there one day to change out the BIOS ROM chips on their half-dozen PC. The outsides of the systems were reasonably clean, by the standards of other workshop PCs I have known. But, oh my, the state of the motherboards...


    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Ah, that bought back memories...

      Are diesel car exhausts particulately grubby? :-) (I'm thinking yes.)

      1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

        Re: Ah, that bought back memories...

        Lil' bit, yes. Especially '80s black cabs, which were particularly primitive - based on the 2.25l unit used in Land Rovers since about 1843, if I recall correctly.


  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One benefit of the reduced number of smokers...

    ... is a dramatic drop-off in the number of tar filled, overheating laptops you have to try and fix!

    1. Steven Raith

      Re: One benefit of the reduced number of smokers...

      You can still get problems though, is they've converted to ecigs, although it is rarer.

      The more cloudy devices use a high vegetable glycerine mix (glycerol) which pulls moisture out of the air, then settles.

      Or gets pulled into the computers PSU intake. And then pops it.

      Not an urban legend; when I used to use cloudy vapes a lot, I killed my own PSU doing this. Protip if you vape like a fiend - dont have your computer in the way of your exhaled clouds :-)

      But yeah, smokers pcs, even as a 40 a day roll up smoker, were foul, and a good incentive to stop, as another has commented here...

      Steven R

    2. BenDwire Silver badge

      Re: One benefit of the reduced number of smokers...

      I was once asked by a work collegue to have a look at her computer that had become incredibly slow. She was a heavy smoker, as was her husband, and they had a house full of shaggy dogs.

      I cannot adequately describe the smell of this machine (or her for that matter), but I peeled of a 'scab' of matted hair and nicotine from each of the vents before removing the case and blasting the thing with compresed air in the car park. Despite me showing her what state it was inside, she just carried on as before until it slowed down again - at which point she bought a new laptop.

      1. quxinot

        Re: One benefit of the reduced number of smokers...

        I once performed maintenance on a computer owned by a heavy smoker. And worse than dogs, she kept.... ferrets.

        Dog hair and tar is not pleasant. Ferrets are apparently ungodly smelly critters (I assume all of the mustelids are, really), and it does not improve when their dander and fur is glued to every @#$%# surface within the machine.

        Now that I own a reasonably sized ultrasonic cleaner, not ONCE have I needed to clean shmutz out of a heatsink. Go figure.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: One benefit of the reduced number of smokers...

          I use my ultrasonic cleaner more for carburetor bodies, jets, airbleeds & the like than for electronics components these days.

          Hint: Scrape off all the gunk you can before running it in the cleaner, just use it for stubborn varnish and interior passages. If you toss in a typical filthy junkyard carb, all that gunk will find it's way into the interior passages & you'll be worse of than when you started.

          Hint 2: Use Pinesol instead of carb cleaner. It's cheaper and does as good a job. Just make sure to remove all plastic & rubber parts first (pinesol will eat some types of rubber and plastic). I use one part pinesol to five parts hot water ... it helps if your cleaner has a heater function.

          Hint 3: Rinse well, three or more times, in warm water. Blow dry with shop air immediately.

          Hint 4: If you have a very good fume hood, use it. Otherwise, run the cleaner outdoors and down-wind! Pinesol fumes permeating your shop isn't fun, and sticks around for days.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: One benefit of the reduced number of smokers...

            Hint 5: At least for my riding and push mowers, an aftermarket replacement carburetor is slightly cheaper than a rebuild kit - and saves an enormous amount of time. These look like great tips (I'll particularly try to remember Pinesol!), but check the replacement cost before getting started.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: One benefit of the reduced number of smokers...

              Yes. For smaller motors, just buy a new one. Sometimes you can even get away with the really cheap chinesium ones. Check online before plonking down coin, though. It's hit & miss. (Fortunately mixers are easy to clean, so no need for a replacement.)

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: One benefit of the reduced number of smokers...

            "Flash cleaner" (mean green in the USA) is reputtedly very effective for enegine parts, It works extremely well on 3d printed ones and it isn't hazardour to inhale or stink the shop out

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: One benefit of the reduced number of smokers...

              I've heard that about Mean Green. I'll probably try it at some point. I've been using Pinesol since Berryman's ChemDip went up to $12.99/gallon in the late '70s, but that doesn't mean I can't change.

  8. sandman

    Mellow Yellow

    Ah, the days of upgrading the office computers. Carefully remove the case (carefully because they were really cheap and the unground metal edges would rip your hand open). Admire the bright yellow fluff gathered around the board. Remove. Smile at the rivulets of dried tar on the inside of the case. Wipe clean. Note how sticky the motherboard was. Shrug. Insert new modem/memory/graphics card/whatever. Carefully close case. If careless, wipe new bloodstains off case and get a plaster. Repeat 12 times.

    1. WhereAmI?

      Re: Mellow Yellow

      Thank you for just making me look at the scar on the first knuckle of my middle finger on my left hand...

      'Cases by Gilette' was the expression we used.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mellow Yellow

        Aw did you blue collars get a paper cut?

        shh! if H&S hear they make you wear welding gloves for the case openings

        1. herman Silver badge

          Re: Mellow Yellow

          Makes me think of the Calgary life guards who were required to wear steel capped safety boots - one guy then painted his toe nails silver.

  9. 0laf Silver badge

    I still have nightmares

    I did a repair job once on a machines that was constantly overheating and shutting down,

    When I opened the case which was a mini tower under a desk, the case was half filled with cigarette ash covering the cpu and fan.

    The smell was overpowering and disgusting and I've never really forgotten it.

    The owner was in the habit of tapping his ciggie at the front fan grill, the ash was convieniently drawn into the case making the whole thing a 5Kg ashtray that hadn't been emptied for 4yr.

  10. Eclectic Man Silver badge


    In my first 'proper' job, my boss smoked cigarettes, and typed with the offending object between index and middle finger. His keyboard was covered in crud, and most of the lesser used character keys were unreadable. Fortunately I never had to use his terminal.

    In my third employment, after a rearrangement of the offices, I 'inherited' a keyboard and PC from the Director who smoked. The keyboard was filthy, so I spent a while cleaning it, until I was prepared to type on it without wearing rubber gloves. A little while later I was moved to a new desk for some work, with another crud-encrusted keyboard, which I dutifully cleaned. At the next move I realised what was going on and just cleaned all of the keyboards one day. I never had to move desk again. (I mean, for goodness' sake, they could have just ASKED me to clean the keyboards, you know, I was only a senior consultant, it was not like any of the junior consultants could possibly have wielded the spray can and cloth, or, heaven forfend either of the directors.)

    1. muddysteve

      Re: Keyboards

      Should have taken the clean keyboard with you - they would soon have learned.

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: Keyboards

        I always bring the keyboard with me. It's not squeaky clean, but any spooge is my own.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sign of the Times

    When I was a student we went to a pub which had a beer garden and a posh sign for it on the door which was made from that soft-plastic that sticks to glass without adhesive. It was about 5 foot high and one of my housemates decided it would look good on the patio doors of the house. He managed to nick it, took it home and stuck it on the doors, thereby creating our own beer garden.

    It stank. It really stank of stale fags and stale beer - but mostly fags. Even though one the guys smoked, the smell of this sign was horrendous and overpowering to the extent that it was no longer possible to tell if it was spag bol or corned beef hash for tea just by the smells wafting from the kitchen. It was a nice shade of brown, although I guess it started out clear, and we had to take it down after a couple of days. He smuggled it back into the pub and it re-appeared on the door after a couple of days.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: Sign of the Times

      One effect of the ban on smoking indoors was that you could suddenly smell the toilets / drains in the pub.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sign of the Times

        Oh, God. Flashbacks!

        The smell of stale cigarette smoke, urine, and those horrid little disinfectant cubes in the urinals in pub (and public) toilets.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Sign of the Times

          Lots of cold, stale smells can be horrible, even if the original "fresh" and warm smell was nice. Evidenced by my stay in a Travellodge in Glasgow once where the adjoining restaurant for guests breakfasts was the Harry Ramsdens fish'n'chip emporium. It's rather disconcerting and not particularly nice to go in for breakfast at 7am to be met by the cold smell of last evenings fish'n'chips.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Sign of the Times

            On a long support task I stayed at a pub with rooms in Oxford. The air everywhere was always rank with the stale smell of frying. Their cuisine at any time of the day seemed to involve frying.

            One Sunday morning as I walked downstairs I was apparently the only guest. The surprised manager said "Oh - we had forgotten you were still here".

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sign of the Times

          ..and stale beer and disinfectant on the bar carpets.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Sign of the Times

            If it was a student pub - STICKY carpets

            Another part of apprentice history, servicing the cash registers in kiwi "booze barns" - you'd find the internals awash in stale beer and the occaional fag end no matter how carefully you waterproofed everything

  12. big_D Silver badge

    Home Office chain smoker...

    When I moved, I stayed at a mates house, whilst I was looking for a flat.

    He shared the house with another friend, who didn't pay rent on the understanding he would keep the house clean... Only he didn't.

    My mate was a chain smoker and had his own business working out of a converted bedroom - air con, 4 servers, 3 desktops a laptop and a couple of printers. All in nicotine orange!

    My mate went away for a weekend with his then girlfriend. My girlfriend came to visit and we sat in his stinking office. We couldn't take it any longer. We cleaned the kitchen, to start with, and the black stair rail - it was white! And the office. I sprayed Breff Power at the top of the door, where it was pink, by the time it had run down to the middle of the door, it was dark orange and by the time it hit the floor, it was black! We cleaned everything, although we made the mistake of opening the fridge in the office, it was turned off, but still had old food in it! By the time we were finished, everything sparkled, well, almost everything. I left one printer uncleaned, except for a white stripe along the middle of the top of the printer.

  13. Colonel Mad

    Ah, the Senior Service problem.

    Reminds of when my Mum called the TV engineer out............

  14. Roger Greenwood

    It's about time

    we had another ventblockers article on here.

    1. Antonius_Prime

      Re: It's about time

      I was looking for something along these lines.

      This article is a good mix of "On Call" and "Ventblockers".

      (Incidentally, I've shown the VB articles to a few people over time and any smokers or cat owners have miraculously managed to clean their acts up... Hrrmmmm... XD )

  15. Ikoth

    Back in the mists of time, my first IT job was with an IBM reseller. One day I was assigned to go fit a memory upgrade in a PC/AT machine used by a local engineering company. The machine was installed in the design office, an open-plan room filled with 30 or more drafting boards. Because this was the late 80's smoking in the office was still a thing, and apparently all the draughtsmen were chain smokers (the constant blue haze in the air was a big clue as well).

    I opened up the PC and literally could not see a single component on the motherboard. The thing was completely smothered in several cm of grey dust which I assumed was years of accumulated fag ash and congealed smoke. It was unbelievably vile. I carted the thing out to the carpark and blasted it with two full cans of "spray-air" to clear the crud out so I could install the upgrade.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge


      Even after the indoor smoking ban offices could be health hazards for the hard of breathing (I.e., asthmatics). I move office and got that joy of joys a Window Seat :O) Yay me!

      Problem was that the next desk to mine was used as a sort of 'dump' for not currently used but lets keep it just in case I need it equipment by the guy in the next desk along. The cleaners would clean any horizontal surface not covering in equipment, and not clean any of the equipment.

      Whenever the air conditioning was on, it would disturb the top few layers of dust that had accumulated over the years and set off my asthma, so I'd often need to take my inhaler.

      I waited for a day that 'old Steve' was out of the office, and brought in a fully charged cordless vacuum cleaner*, and vacuumed the lot, and then used screen clean foam on the desk, carefully replacing the kit close to where it had been before, but now relieved of its burden of old skin flakes, house dust mites and their faeces etc. (The clue being that this kit was so old and so covered in dust that I didn't think he would ever use any of it again.)

      Result - no more asthma attacks. I don't know if 'old Steve' noticed, he didn't say anything.

      * We were banned from connecting any non-company electric equipment to the mains power supply without permission and a valid test certificate from the man with the avo-meter, and I'm not aware of any effective vacuum cleaner that works off a USB power supply.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Used to work in a small office in the basement (almost "IT Crowd" in all its glory).

    The two people I worked with smoked like chimneys! It was awful. Everything was covered with a light brown sticky substance. I used to go home stinking of smoke. I hated working there most of the time (the site was amazingly interesting - IF you ever got out of the basement, which wasn't often).

    Health and safety there was pretty much non-existent (odd, because elsewhere on the site H&S was very important). My first day, I was told to be careful because they thought the roof aircon unit was about to fall THROUGH the roof.....

    Fun days.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A one-man-and-a-dog company head-hunted me for my experience of a competitor's product. They had a rather ancient building in the countryside. I went along and was given a guided tour of a warren of small rooms Every one was full of smoke and one person had both cigarettes and a pipe in his ash tray.

      As a non-smoker I would not want to work in that atmosphere. They offered me my own office - and people would refrain from smoking in group meetings. No way! They didn't even offer the usual payment of travel expenses.

  17. Dave559


    Ughh, all these very cautionary tales simultaneously make you want to gag and vomit, yet at the same time lure you in to want to read more of them…!

    Thank the gods I have never had to deal with computers like any of these described! Nevertheless, I feel rather an urge to wash my hands…

  18. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse


    I've mentioned it in other similar threads but early in my career I worked part time in my companies technical support department; they used to deal primarily with enterprise class hardware such as AS/400, RS/6000, SUN, HP and such like; but as a public service once a week they would open it up where people could just drop in and have their home computer problems diagnosed free of charge.

    I had a guy come in with an old PS/2 that he said was intermittently rebooting at random moments. When I lifted the lid, it was fairly obvious as to the problem being that almost every component was covered in a nasty layer of brown cigarette tar, with lots of dust and fluff stuck to it. Thankfully it was deemed a health hazard and I was told to hand it back.

    I can still remember the stench almost 20+ years later.

  19. Giles C Silver badge

    Fortunately I have never encountered smokers computers in my career.

    I did once take the top layer of laminate off the desk after a pc had been glued to it with coffee. Spill a suitable quantity bud don’t clean under the machine and the heat from the components basically formed a very strong glue (must have had a lot of sugar in it).

    I think we resorted to a screwdriver or crowbar on a couple of occasions.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I've had similar experience with the rubber feet rotting away and degrading into a kind of glue. Whether that was just cheep "rubber" with no life-extending additives or contamination causing it go gooey I don't kn ow, but yes, they can sometimes be quite difficult to lift from the desk if they not been moved in years.

  20. Jaspa

    I'm not paying for a new one, fix it. Oh, how much again?

    Many moons ago in a valley not that far away I found myself with a non-functional smart card reader at a certain red and yellow Filling Station.

    This was in the early days with a manual sled you had to push to insert the card into the reader.

    Given the device was part of a popular loyalty scheme and quite the earner, irate Manager type insisted on demonstrating the voodoo that was the automatic card eject (remember this was entirely manual.)

    Pop the lid off to see if there were any obstructions and found a small nest of "curly hairs" that when compressed and released returned to shape pushing the card out.

    Not wanting to go any further than a visual inspection and taking full advantage of my Senior position I suggested a replacement at cost. (well wouldn't we all)

    Manager was throwing accusations of shoddy kit, shoddy engineers, "ITS ONLY A MONTH OLD! I WANT A NEW ONE!"

    I demonstrated the "fault" and suggested if he cleaned it I'd not charge.

    Nanoseconds later the nod was given to swap it out at time plus materials. Even had a free bottle of wine for my trouble which was nice as it was a Friday.

  21. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    I had a job once

    linking RS232 ports on CNC machines to a central switch... then onto the PC.

    Some bright spark had to "corporate rebranding" idea and decided to waste money moving everything around the factory to make it more effecient.

    Needless to say I had the honour of re-connecting the data links... while there I pointed out that it was very very dusty, and they needed to move the forced air supply to the machines too.

    Nope... not needed.... too much extra money.... so I went on my way.

    Got a call from an old bud who worked there... "Machine just blew up....." turns out the dust was conductive too and just shorted out the mainboard... $5000 for new one + fitting.

    then they turned off all of them and found the same dust about to trash all the machines..... saving $1500 on some flexible hoses and ductwork really worked out well for them..

    1. MGyrFalcon

      Re: I had a job once

      That's nothing. I work for a steel fabricator and we had recently picked up a second hand 3 spindle CNC drill and saw. (For the curious lookup Voortman V630) Mind you this thing can drill a 1-1/16" dia hole through 1" of steel in 3 axis in about 3 seconds. All of the spindles are powered by power packs fill with capacitors charged up to 700V located in a separate electrical cabinet, meant to be placed in a sealed room and not right next to the machine.

      During shipping the years of metal dust from use shifted and when we started the commissioning one of those large packs started to short. VERY luckily the tech noticed and hit the E-Stop before the caps started popping.

      I spent some time digging through specs and doing rough back of the envelop calculations and figured each of those drive packs stored the equivalent energy of just over 1 stick of dynamite. Not imagine 3 of those going in a chain reaction, plus the 6 small packs about 1/3 the size. It would have blow the end of the building clean off.

      1. MGyrFalcon

        Re: I had a job once

        Did I forget to mention it cost around $40K US to replace all of the fried components? The power surge damaged the other 2 drive packs and a few other bits and bobs.

  22. Sgt_Oddball

    Reminds me of..

    Buying an eBay graphics card so I could get some of that sweet, sweet crossfire action.

    Turns out it was so cheap because it belonged to a smoker. No problem, I thought plenty of elbow grease and IPA solution (and IPA beers too, for elbow lubricant) and the muck was cleaned off with plenty of cotton buds sacrificing themselves in the process.

    Cleaned and ready to go, I set it up. With in minutes the smell of working mens club tables permeated the room and took months to finally burn off completely.


    On the plus side, after owning it for a year I managed to sell the thing off for £10 more than I bought it. Such is the strange word we live in with these things now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reminds me of..

      The previous owners of my house had been heavy smokers. It took years to eradicate the smell. It was particularly noticeable when opening the front door after being on-site for a few weeks.

      I grew up in the era when smoking was accepted just about anywhere - offices, public transport, restaurants, cinemas etc. Even our GP would have an ashtray on his desk - and the school staffroom was a fug of cigarette smoke. Our classrooms were smoking free - but some teachers with nicotine-stained fingers still stank of the smoke.

      Homes were often the same - and my parents and sibling all eventually died of lung cancer.

  23. Notmy Realname

    Years ago I worked with a guy with cerebral palsy. Every day he bring in a big jug is sweet iced tea and 6 oatmeal cookies that he wife made. His fine motor control was pretty poor so his keyboard, desk, and a two foot radius around his chair was a crumby, sticky mess.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As I've mentioned before, I knew someone who was the same - except he didn't have cerebral palsy and was just a dirty git.

      He made sandwiches at his desk - butter, fish paste, sardines, vegetables, crisps/chips, the lot. And he never washed his hands. After he'd finished eating, he just rubbed them together and that was it.

      One time he was have trouble with his mouse not working. I opened it up to clean the rollers and almost threw up.

  24. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Back in the basement

    At the Uni where I used to work, we had a large room in the basement that had been cleared. Not sure what it was used for before the clearing as I didn't have access, or a reason to use it. However, when my boss took it over, he had the idea of bunging a couple of technicians and several high spec computers down there, to build a state of the art computer lab. All very lovely, but with one slight problem (that I did point out to the boss beforehand and was ignored). The area we were in was on the banks of the Thames, and had a bit of a problem with flooding. This wouldn't have been much of a problem if we'd bought Desktop PCs, or even mini-towers. But no, my boss wanted big fuck off towers, so the students could see how much money we were spending on them. I suspect, if it had been an option at the time, he'd have gone for the full gaming towers with LEDs everywhere. We even bought the lab it's own domain controller. Again, in a very wide server style towercase (this thing was the height of a full tower, and about 19inches wide), which sat on the floor in the technician's office.

    So, a few months later, it rained. Heavily. Thankfully the lab was closed, but when the technicians got in the next morning, all the PCs and the DC were waterlogged, and obviously, dead. With the entire team, it took a couple of days to dry everything out, clean it (had to clean all sorts of shit from the cases and motherboards, and repair any problems. We had the lab up and running after a couple of days (and a lot of disruption), When we did get everything working, we made sure to put all the computers on the benches, not under them, My boss was furious. His mood not really helped by a technician jokingly suggesting we should buy a speedboat to navigate this lab.

    Thankfully, in the long term, the problem was solved because the Uni moved out of that building, and put that lab on the first floor of the building it moved to.

    1. series_one

      Re: Back in the basement

      I studied at a university beside the Thames, the 3rd basement held the electrical lab. In the days before the Thames barrier existed we were all a bit worried about potential flooding and whether they should provide life jackets, however one of the civil engineers cheerfully pointed out that the volume of water hurtling down the stairwell would mean that we didn't stand a chance of getting out anyway.

  25. MrReynolds2U

    I worked at an IT sales and repair outfit in the late 90s that's no-longer trading. At one point the boss pointed me to a room of rather sooty IT equipment he was "recycling" from a fire at a local biscuit manufacturer (think Wagon Wheels). We cleaned it all up with detergent and Jif (as it used to be called) and he sold it all on. I presume the haul was meant to be disposed of but he was always turning shit into silver, that man.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Old saying "One man's muck - is another man's brass"

  26. 45RPM Silver badge

    I remember fixing one laptop that had been returned by an ex-employee to my sisters business. There was an unpleasant crusty residue on the keyboard, wristrest and trackpad. I carefully cleaned it, wearing latex gloves, and then got to examining it. The internet history was an education in itself and suggested that the residue might be described as pornflakes.

  27. not.known@this.address

    Those who don't learn from history...

    One place I worked, each floor had a kitchen area that for some reason had been installed at the opposite side of the building to where the water came in, so they had pipes across the entire width of the building. One weekend, a pipe on the 4th floor sprung a leak. On the Monday, one of the engineers on the 3rd floor said "why is there water on my desk?" and looked up. Although they later denied it, one of them prodded the suspicious-looking bulge in the ceiling tiles and they discovered why there was water on his desk... and several other desks, when about a dozen tiles came down. Luckily we had enough spare PCs to replace theirs while theirs were drying out, after we'd cleared the soggy cardboard goo that had been ceiling tiles off...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Those who don't learn from history...

      Large toilet waste pipe was apparently blocked. Caustic chemicals failed to clear the blockage - but a drain rod push eventually gave a satisfying pop. Flushed through ok - job done.

      Emergency IT call out. The pipe travelled through the false ceiling in the comms room. The "pop" had been a rubber seal failing - and the modem racks were now dripping with the effluent.

  28. Marty McFly Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    Long time ago in a career now far away, I was rehabilitating x386 PCs which had served in restaurants, often near the fryers and other such equipment. I would completely disassemble the PC and put the parts in the break room dishwasher. As long as everything was thoroughly dry, I usually had success at bringing it back to life.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    First foray into IT I worked in a retail laptop repair shop (late 90s/early 00s, they were worth repairing), and a regular Customer had just bought a Tiny A360 laptop, which at the time spec wise was pretty decent (P3 1GHz, DVD+CDRW combo etc, 14" screen etc), although a shite brand/cheap machine, it was still probably 1500 quid.

    He came in as his toddler son had spilt something on the keyboard - when he came back to collect it, the engineer went to hand it back over, Customer was pleased as punch, and the engineer made the fatal mistake of asking what had been spilt on it.

    "Oh, it wasn't a spillage as such, I left it open on the floor and he peed onto the keyboard'

    Never laughed so much, the engineer turned a funny colour, and probably reinforced his usual avoidance of customer engagement

  30. pubsecit

    Also reminds me, the place I worked at was in a fairly roughneck inner city area of Birmingham, and some of the clientele enjoyed inhaling the fragrant flowering buds of illegal plants. The amount of times I'd quickly do a RAM upgrade/keyboard replacement for people, shake the keyboard out and have enough for a £10 bag fall out was comical. Turns out people have a predication to skin up on laptop palm-rests :D

  31. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    From the days of big iron …

    and computers in cabinets the size of wardrobes, I remember a field service engineer doing provocative maintenance while sitting inside the main CPU cabinet and cheerfully puffing on a pipe. All inside what was laughingly known as a "clean" room.

    Icon: Best fit.

    1. Montreal Sean

      Re: From the days of big iron …

      @Arthur the Cat

      Provocative maintenance? Sounds risqué!

  32. Sequin

    A neighbour asked me to have a look at her laptop as it kept cutting out - the vents were clogged with cigarette residues and it worked fine again when I brushed them out.

    My father-in-law asked me to look at his laptop as the keyboard was playing up - I discovered a layer of sticky, sugary grot inside it and had to replace it - he still insists he hnever spilt anything on it!

    I got an emergency callout to the data centre of the large government department I worked for, saying that the on-screen menus on an old, but vital system had disappeared. Yes - the brightness had been switched down.

  33. herman Silver badge

    Ctrl Alt Del

    Once cleaned a smoker's keyboard - left the Ctrl-Alt-Del combo black.

  34. David Neil

    Sausage casings...

    Was doing PC support in a factory that produced sausage casings and suchlike. Cow hides from the abbatoir in one end, collagen food casings out the other.

    PC next to the production line needed to be swapped out, bit grimy but not horrific, until we got it back to the IT dungeon they had us in.

    It was like the coating on the walls in Aliens, prising the lid open and there was a 'skin' clinging to every inside surface and component.

  35. DS999 Silver badge

    I'm glad

    That I missed the age of smoking inside in the workplace. I remember consulting for a company in the late 90s and the conference room we normally used had a 'smoke eater' in the ceiling centered over the table that was yellow with brown/black coloring near the air intake. Thankfully it was never turned on, because I can only imagine how bad the air coming out of it would have smelled!

    Apparently the walls/ceiling must have been repainted since smoking was banned there, as they were a bright white that would have been impossible in a windowless room filled with smokers. Just the thought of having to sit in a meeting in such a room would have been sufficient motivation to invent the internet, the web AND zoom decades ahead of their time to avoid it!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm glad

      I was a PFY during that time - fortunately it was just one smoker. He also claimed to be a vegetarian - despite eating fish and chicken.

      Woe betide anyone eating a meat pastie or pie, they would be subjected to a lecture on how bad it was for them - while he was smoking a roll up.....

  36. RobDog

    Home computers too

    I was an Amiga user, non smoker, but my brother - 40 or more JPS per day - was an Atari ST owner. But an electronics enthusiast he was not, I was really the computer kid, so he used to pay me a fiver periodically to open it up and clean it out when the disk drive played up. Good money when I was 14.

  37. Ivan Vorpatril

    A tenant's forced air furnace stopped working earlier this month. I helped out the furnace guy who came to repair. He told me to replace the filters. I said it had only been a few weeks, but the tenants smoke cigarettes. He said that is bad, but marijuana smokers are the worst, when it comes to tar build up.

  38. John Brown (no body) Silver badge


    One of the very first jobs I was allocated as a field engineer was to visit a customers site where the screen was too dim to read, brightness and contrast turned up full. Being a cheap maintenance contract, we didn't routinely assume that we needed a replacement screen unless there was compelling evidence from the initial phone diagnosis so in this would be a diagnosis visit and maybe a fix if some joints needed resoldering or something else easy like boosting the HT a bit. It turned out the screen was attached to a PC used as a machine controller on the factory floor. The only issue was that the glass was so dirty even full brightness and contrast was barely readable. A bit of foam cleaner, job done, cust told to clean the screen when required and an invoice would be raised as cleaning the screen is not part of the contract, that's the users job.

  39. Andy A

    It's not just smokers

    It's not just smokers that cause disasters on the insides of machines. In the late 80s I used to visit offices on both sides of Whitehall, and London air pollution was dire.

    The financial services company on one side was run by a died-in-the-wool non-smoker, but London conspired against him. If I needed to open up a machine the procedure was:

    1. Undo case screws.

    2. Take case onto balcony.

    3. Stand UPWIND.

    4. Open case.

    5. Use a brush to loosen the black debris, bit by bit, letting one brushful drift away to foul the tourists below before risking another brushful.

    On the other side, a Civil Service department needed an upgrade on a PC. I took the side panel off the tower case, then asked for directions to the Gents. I used several paper towels and quite a bit of detergent returning the panel to an acceptable colour. Once the required parts had been fitted, I powered the PC up to test it. More damp paper towels later, I turned the screen brightness down from "full" to about 25%. "Do you never clean your PCs?" "We're waiting for the stationery department to get the cleaning kits."

    1. G.Y.

      classic Re: It's not just smokers

      "waiting for the stationery department" is a classic

  40. Horst U Rodeinon

    Now, back to the original story

    Based on the behavior of the Fat fsck, it reinforced my long held opinion that cigars are merely Link Trainers for c*cksuckers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Now, back to the original story

      Oral satisfaction is probably wired into the human brain - and reinforced from an early age with breast-feeding, milk-bottles, thumbs, and new object exploration.

  41. NITS

    A few times a year I get called to investigate the lack of network connectivity to one or more scales in the deli department of a grocery or big-box store. Sometimes it's the NIC in the scale, or the wall jack, that's at fault. But sometimes the cable analysis says that the fault is at a distance that puts it under the display case. It's not fun to lie on the slimy deli floor, remove the kickplate, and reach in where the pressure washer kicked the crud that it washed off the floor last night, to find and correct a cable fault. Sometimes it's an old jack and plug that someone put in to extend the cable to a new location. Electrons eventually take a dislike to the green crud that forms in such environments.

    Another source of joy are C*sco WAPs which, when installed with the writing right-side-up, have the LAN connectors facing up. . . ready to collect any moisture that runs down the patch cord due to roof leaks, condensation, wash-down, etc. Usually they just turn green, but apparently there's enough energy available from PoE to turn things black sometimes.

  42. Bruce Ordway

    Wyse terminals and foot-long cigars

    This brings back memories.

    Instead of IT, I actually started out in engineering where everyone smoked. We all worked in one big room filled with drafting tables and old steel desks on the left. After lunch you could always count on the thick, low hanging cloud of smoke building up. I switched from cigarettes to cigars when I decided I was going to quit smoking... it actually worked for me.

    The thing I remember about Wyse terminals is that it was common for them to lose their configurations. Either due to power loss or users accidentally entering certain sequences. Once I started tinkering with the tech, I was hooked and have never looked back.

  43. Disk0

    Ashes to letters

    At one time about a quater century ago I was requested to tag along - being an “expert “ in all things related to graphic design because of actually owning several Adobe products that I acquired at a firesale - to a lettering company in the heart of my city. My role was relatively simple: translate whatever jargon would be thrown around from each side, make sure the good folks there understood the requirements, and that output would be acceptable. I had already assisted with formatting the Illustrator file appropriately, copying the resulting EPS to a Zip disk, and printing a hardcopy just to make sure, as was the custom in thise days. I though I had left nothing to chance. It promised to be a breezy little outing. Once at the lettering company, that looked more like a garage than a serious graphics outfit, we were sent upstairs to “the chief”s lair. Chief was a stout fellow with artistic hair dressed in corduroy, and generated enough smoke from an obviously cheap cigar ( expensive ones smell way better...) to compete with a medium sized factory. His messy, dark nook of an office overlooked the canal but was otherwise bereft of any grandeur. “What the heck is that?” the chief blurted out, pointing at the Zip disk. “Kind of the standard exchange doohicky for graphics files” I responded, since my companion was already sorely taken aback with the whole situation. “Wahaha no we don’t do any of that. Just give me that hardcopy!” Chief replied. After some deliberation, we decided to go along - after all, this was The Leading and Reknowned Lettering company, and there wasn’t really another option. Chief proceeded to pop open the ginormous Agfa flatbed scanner, and rested the smouldering stump of his cigar on the edge of the plastic casing - that had onbviously been subjected to this level of abuse ever since it had first been deployed. The edge was marked with black, ashy, molten indentations. I couldn’t help but be aghast. He noticed and laughed “that doesn’t hurt anything!” I decided it wasn’t my money, and somehow mustered a “Do you mind if I smoke?” which was shot down immediately and harshly. “No cigarettes!”. He proceeded to fire up some arcane text-driven software, frantically tweaking parameters and cursing every moment of it, apparently setting up althe scanned file to send to the plotter. “Can we see the result?” My companion asked, concerned about the costly operation’s output. “This does not have graphics, what do you think, we’re not NASA here! You will see when we make it. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine! Just go choose your colour with the lad downstairs, it will be ready tomorrow.” So we did, pick the colour of film that was the clostest match to the desired Pantone tint to match the house style, crossed our fingers and left - ie. got yelled at to get the hell out because they had work to do. The output turned out fine, but the events stuck with me because of the utterly incomprehensible process, and the poor scanner being abused so heavily by this man’s cigars...

  44. Sampler

    Similar, but not as refined...

    I once had a similar experience, a friend of a friend asked me to look at his computer as it wasn't giving any output to screen. A few cursor checks were text back and forth before a home visit was arranged (him to mine, my generosity only goes so far).

    Popped the computer on my work bench, popped the side off so I could see what was going on during boot, plugged the cables in and powered it up.

    Pop, poof..something on the motherboard blew and a little plume of smoke rose from the opened side.

    "There's your problem" I said, pointing at the smoke. The case panel I'd removed was covered in a sickly yellow sticky substance, I presumed similarly all components were but I wasn't going to get close enough to find out, presumably this substance was conductive and he'd shorted it.

    Built them a replacement unit on the cheap out of ebay seconds and delivered it, this is where I found the source of the problem, our friends friend like to smoke weed, and copious amounts if the literal mountain of baggies on his desk were to go by (no exaggeration, a foot tall and the base about as wide, no wonder he had no cash to buy a new rig).

    Never been a smoker myself but seeing what passive can do to a machine over a couple of years I'm quite glad I never took it up myself... drugs are bad..m'kay..

  45. aerogems Silver badge

    I worked for a recently defunct electronics store repairing all their Apple units back in the day. I had a similar experience once. A unit from a heavy smoker came in, and the smell was bad enough, but as soon as I opened it up you could see the entire inside was coated with this sort of caramel colored tar. There were even the beginnings of some tarcicles on the fan blades. I was amazed the thing worked for as long as it did and that the fans could even still spin. I managed to find some gloves and tried to diagnose the issue, but pretty sure we ended up just sending it back saying it was coated in some foreign substance and were refusing service as a result. Would have literally required replacing every component, including the case and there's no way anyone would take those parts back.

    I also remember almost every unit coming from stores in Texas were filled with this orange-red sand. You could literally tip them on their side and dump it out like a shoe after walking on the beach.

  46. Mike 16

    That doesn't hurt anything

    Shades of the I.T. manager (by some other title, long ago) when I was surprised that the operators smoked in the computer room with the spanking new System/3 that had replaced the Tab equipment.

    "Aren't you worried about the disks?"

    "Doesn't hurt them none" - Said as they blew smoke into a pack with the cover removed...

    Another place, moving into a new building where the "computer room" (PDP-11/20 and a pair of 11-03s) air conditioning intake was right next to the exhaust from the paint shop hood. Big fun.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: That doesn't hurt anything

      ""Doesn't hurt them none" - Said as they blew smoke into a pack with the cover removed..."

      And away went your warranty. There is a reason that Glass Rooms were the first areas of the workspace that went smoke free.

      "air conditioning intake was right next to the exhaust from the paint shop"

      I'm surprised that DEC didn't flag that. I would have when I was in field circus.

  47. Alan Brown Silver badge

    this sounds like...

    ...The innards of the family TV when it failed

    I was a callow apprentice and took it into work. Much scrubbing with soapy water and IPA ensured but the arcing tacked into the nicotine "coating" on the boards pretty much ensured it wasn't long for the world

    My grandparents TV was even worse. I took one look, called it a health hazard and suggested they buy a new one

    Yes, more than half my family (All but one great grandparent and all but one grandparent, along with several uncles, aunts, great aunts and uncles) were killed by smoking-related illnesses

    I think showing my parents the evil smelling gunk that came off that TV's boards is what finally scared them into stopping,

  48. MechanicJay

    Just two years ago...

    I had a dumb terminal (Zenith Z-29) come in. It was some users "Take home equipment". It was dropped off with a 9600baud |d|i|g|i|t|a|l| modem. I guess when we killed the last analog line into the building it became somewhat useless.

    Yep, from a smoker....holy cow. Of course, at this point, I couldn't let it get binned, so I took it into my office. By lunch time, I felt as if I'd smoked a pack. But, lots of cleaning of the inside and outside of the case, as well as the boards with Simple Green and within a week the smell was all but gone.

    Still works, I have it hooked to my workstation and use it regularly :)

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    long time ago

    I was tasked to put labels of IP addresses on every desktop of this entertainment company.

    Yes, that was quite ridiculous, but anyway.

    I came to this lad's desktop. Closed office. Heavy smoker. I swear, I couldn't attach the label to his desktop.

    The thing was so yellow with nicotine the label wouldn't attach.

    I had to get it cleaned with alcohol before it attaches.

    Mad. Surely, he's dead by now ...

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