back to article You've stolen the antiglare shield on that monitor you've fixed – they say the screen is completely unreadable now

We all know users can be disgusting. However, not all of us have to get up and close and personal with their filth. Welcome to the grimier side of On Call. Our story takes us back to the halcyon days of the 1980s, and the antics of John, a student apprentice working in a factory. "I spent quite a while in the Electronics …

  1. bofh1961

    Pretty routine back then... was having to "repair" keyboards that were full of fag ash. There was always something under the centre of the spacebar that looked exactly like earwax too. If anyone knows what it really was, please enlighten me!

    1. Semtex451

      Re: Pretty routine back then...

      Yes its what happens when there are successive non-catastrophic coffee spillages.

      I say coffee, I mean milky Nescafe with sugar, but as you know, it passed for coffee back then.

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: Nescafé

        As a Spanish colleague of mine once put it, "Nescafé" is a contraction of "No es café" (literally, it's not coffee). No arguing there.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: Nescafé

          In French, n'est cafe pas :p

    2. xyz123 Silver badge

      Re: Pretty routine back then...

      You were meant to taste it. It was either earwax, a bit of Nestle Toffo (Google it) or a mix of the two.

    3. Antony Shepherd

      Re: Pretty routine back then...

      Had a former colleague who's keyboard was full of snot, presumably their own.

      I think we just threw it in the bin.

  2. chivo243 Silver badge

    HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

    I've also had to open computers used by chain smokers... When my previous employer went smoke free, I stopped working on filth filled machines. The worst one was a Dell laptop and the user in question put his ash tray next to the intake vent for the fan... It came to the office in a plastic bag, and we all could smell it as soon as it came in the door! Even the one smoker in the office was offended! We did not open even open the bag, wrote it off as a total loss.

    1. bofh1961

      Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

      We once picked up a keyboard that had been the victim of Ribena. Even two days in an ultrasonic bath full of acetone failed to clean it. We gave up at that point!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!


        Why would you try to wash off a water soluble substance (you knew it was Ribena) using acetone and an ultrasonic bath?

        1. gotes

          Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

          acetone and an ultrasonic bath

          Yes, I would have expected that to melt the keyboard.

          1. Adrian 4

            Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

            Maybe they didn't want it to recover, especially partially ?

          2. bofh1961

            Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

            Surprisingly it looked exactly the same when it came out as it had when we put it in.

        2. bofh1961

          Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

          Believe it or not, we did try water before resorting to acetone.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

          idiot taxpayer here again,

          Ribena is diluted by water BUT the 'nice' blackcurrant colour is NOT soluble .... hence the usual panic when it is spilt.

          Certain plastics will bind to the colour extremely well ..... hence the use of acetone.

          There are many other solvents that can be used .... with varying unfortunate consequences on certain plastics.

          The use of acetone and ultrasonics is NOT a bad choice to try to recover from this situation, but is dependant on the plastic, surface texture and if the surface has had a lacquer applied.

          The stain may be bonding to the surface lacquer rather than the plastic itself, removing the lacquer will, of course, ruin the colour/finish of the plastic.

          Been there, done that ..... luckily I was working in a organic chemical research lab and we could 'try' various ideas out.

          Somewhat surprisingly, if the item can survive getting wet, strong detergent and hot water can sometimes work.

          i.e. a industrial glassware cleaner or standard domestic Dishwasher, if not too hot !!!

          Nota bene: Industrial glassware cleaners can use many solvents ..... ensure it is using water first !!! :)

          1. Anonymous Coward

            Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

            Ribena is coloured with anthocyanins which are water soluble.

            There maybe other colours present from other ingredients that are not, but the main additive used for colouring is.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!


              I stand corrected BUT as stated 'something' in Ribena appears to be NOT soluble .... as generations of parents etc can verify !!! :)

              On further investigation it appears that although soluble in water anthocyanins do bind well to proteins .... this would explain the problems getting stains out of some non-synthetic materials.

              Apparently, Ribena waste blackcurrent skins are used to make hair dyes from the anthocyanins.


              I assumed the staining was caused by being non-soluble as large amounts of water ( + detergent) rarely removed the staining completely. Possibly the process of trying to remove the stain was actually binding the stain further !!!

              Obvious more modern answer would be to use something like 'Vanish' but what it does to plastics I do not know !!! :)

              1. ICL1900-G3

                Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

                Parents ? I LOVE Ribena.

          2. Norman Nescio Silver badge

            Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

            Ah yes, plastics and solvents.

            I was not impressed to discover that the plastic on modern Victorinox pocket-knives (a) dissolves in isopropyl alcohol and (b) melts in boiling water. I have a strong suspicion that it is also soluble in citrus oil, which is found in some degreasants, and surprise, surprise, in citrus fruit peel. It's not like I'd ever peel an orange or clementine with the aid of a pocket-knife.

            Of course, when I discovered this irritating fact, I went down the rabbit-hole of researching the best or alternatively, the most cost-effective material for knife handles. There are whole websites dedicated to such things (a bit Rule-34-ish)*, which obviously never touched the browsers at Victorinox.

            I have inherited some 'industrial strength' pocket knives from my grandfather that have some form of black plastic with a knurled finish as the handle cover: it isn't Bakelite, as that would have crumbled away by now. Whatever it is, I wish Victorinox used it.

            *Random examples:



            1. IanRS

              Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

              Possibly ebonite, a form of very hard rubber. Since the manufacturing process (vulcanisation) involves polymerising the carbon chains via sulphur bonds it is a bit whiffy to machine - you get some of the sulphur back.

          3. Caffeinated Sponge

            Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

            Dishwashers used to be the standard fix for Apple keyboards before it all went chiclets.

          4. JeffB

            Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

            I commented on here 2 or 3 years ago about someone using a dishwasher to clean keyboards, especially in the PS2 era, you just need to be sure they are properly dried before plugging in

      2. Nifty Silver badge

        Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

        The Mrs once managed to get cough mixture into the keyboard of an earlier generation Apple clamshell laptop keyboard. We didn't notice much till the liquid began to harden... Managed to remove the affected keys, scrape the stuff off with a toothpick and got it back to nearly good as new.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

          "cough mixture into the keyboard"

          I hope that was before consumption.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

            Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

            Small child, primary school as the teacher (Icon) put it on the ticket "Child lost his lunch on the keyboard".

            I was sent to drop off the replacement (Early finish on my way home).

            We kept the old one for you to take back with you if you want it!

            I decided that the nornal WEEE compliance could take a running jump & said they can throw it in with their own rubbish.

      3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

        Not an IT thing, but I was called to fix a mysterious series of faults on a sound desk in a studio; odd things like the tape machines would start and stop randomly.

        Eventually traced it to corroded tracks on the sound desk motherboard, and that was because some kind soul had spilt mineral water into it some months previously. It had dried up, but left its salts behind, and whenever the weather got a bit humid, it corroded a little further...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: corroded traces

          I hope I don't jinks it. But our clothes dryer quit working a few years ago. Looked at it to be sure I couldn't fix it. Found that one of the big relays in it was missing the PC board trace(s) to energize it. I could see where they were supposed to be because the board was coated to protect the traces. The coating hadn't worked. :-) But I was able to use some wire wrap to jumper over the missing traces and got it working again.

          1. a_builder

            Re: corroded traces

            I did the same with a Bosch dishwasher.

            You do have to wonder why as part of the pretest, before bulk manufacturing a PCB, they don’t run it and have a look with an IR camera?

            I reinforced the tracks with some nice thick solid copper soldered onto the PCB.

            It went on to do another 7 years of dishwashing.

            1. RockBurner

              Re: corroded traces

              How else do you think they build in the 'planned obsolescence' ?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

        Once at school my prized commodore scientific calculator suffered from a spillage of a concentrated glucouse solution in a biology lesson ...2 or 3 of the keys subsequently were always sticky - literally and also could stick down when pressed .. fortunately this was still in the days were compasses with sharp pointy ends were still allowed and could be used to pull the key back up when necessary. Also, just like a HHGTTG towel, that corner of the calculator could be licked to get a quick sugar boost!

    2. firu toddo

      Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

      Spillages, I've seen a few!

      One was a desktop with a failed PSU, a not uncommon problem but, nothing to do with the spillage. No the spillage problem was the full sugar coke that had been left under the machine to dry and glued it to the desk! Both desk and computer bore the scars of that incident.

      Another was a desktop that failed because of a spillage. The call said something had gone wrong with the electrickery bits and the magic smoke escaped. Cue yours truly to examine diagnose and fix said box. The number one suspect was a paper cup someone had stood on the system box and forgot about, which then leaked a mysterious liquid.

      The mystery liquid was a patients urine.

      The hows whys and wherefores of the cup/urine combination were never explained to me. But the various tests and jabs after were truly memorable and served as a reminder to use liquid resistant PPE for ward visits.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

        Replacing PC's at NRES in Plymouth, lifted one PC to discover a coffee spillage underneath it.

        The spillage had acted as primordial soup, life had evolved, gained sentience & had got to a Futurama style "Godfellows"(Icon) point & had a war with their neighbour's & all that was left was the dusty ancient ruins of their civilisation.

        It wasn't cleaning up at all, so I positioned the new smaller machine right over it.

        1. Giles C Silver badge

          Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

          I have come across pcs where coffee (with sugar) had been spilt and gone underneath the machine, it had been glued to the desk, lifted the surface off the desk a couple of times- fortunately I don’t do desktop work any more.

          1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

            Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

            Neither do those desks.

      2. IfYouInsist

        Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

        Back in the '90s I was once playing games on my dad's PC with my kid cousin. He knocked over a cup of something sugary, spilling it onto the desk. We cleaned it up immediately and thought nothing of it. About a week later, I picked up an unlabeled 3.5" floppy disk I found lying around and inserted it into the the PC's drive to see what it contained. The disk could not be read and, lo and behold, neither could any other disks after that...!

        As it turned out, the little protective cover on the disk had got glued shut by the sugar and something in the drive broke when trying to move it. The drive had to be replaced. A nice little lesson in failure modes, I suppose.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: HAZMAT suit please, nurse, gloves please!

          I lost one of my Model M keyboards to either Tizer or Irn Bru (it was orange and very sticky).

          I now know how to fix it (and have fixed another, this time contaminated with full-sugar Pepsi), but unfortunately I did not have this knowledge then, and wrecked the membrane when trying to fix it.

          None of the kids owned up to the issue.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When I still smoked by the computer at home, before the days of non-smoking apartments, my monitor and keyboard would get downright tacky with deposited nicotine and tar. But as I tended to lean back and *then* reach for my smoke, my keyboards didn't suffer from "ashitis." :)

  4. Rtbcomp

    I worked for a company that installed and maintained ATMs up and down the country. On several occasions we got a call from a bank to clean out the ATM that was next to a pub because it was full of vomit.

    I thank God that I wasn't trained on that kit!

    1. Tom 7

      I had the unfortunate experience of withdrawing some cash late after pub chucking out so I could hit the kebab van only to discover on the way to the kebab van someone had deposited chilli sauce on the ATM and I had the unusual experience of standing ordering a kebab while my eyes streamed and screamed before I'd even got the bloody thing!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Years ago in Bristol the then Midland Bank had some ATM machines in the city center where you had to first swipe your card to open a door to get into a "room" that held the machines. Someone I vaguely knew worked a the Midland branch next to these machine. He said it was part of the Monday morning routine to gather round a montor while someone checked the friday/staurday night CCTV videos as turned out a surprising number of drunken couples thought that by going through the outer door meant they had found somewhere "private"

  5. davef1010101010


    Lots of stories of this type but the one that always springs to mind is the waste disposal company with OKI Microline 132 col dot matrix printers thundering away outputting the invoices inside huge cabinets/acoustic hoods. Same as the story above, you needed breathing aparatus to go into the portacabin and I hated going there because I always ended up with mud on my suit trousers wading across the site.

    Called out one day, "not printing anything". Printer was too hot to touch inside its cabinet because the fans on both sides of the cabinet had gummed up with the tar completely suffocating the poor Oki.

    Not my problem I said, we only cover the printer, not the acoustic cabinet. You'll have to run it with the lid up until you get a new one.

    1. Andy A

      Re: Overheated

      Those old OKIs were pretty much indestructible. On place where I worked had them by the dozen. Weakest parts were the user buttons and the PSU. You could make a working one from two failures inside 5 minutes.

      One had a peculiar fault. It would run for about 15 seconds, with the print head slowing down all the time. Power cycle and the same 15 second performance.

      I cleaned the guide rod, hoping to shift some (invisible) sticky stuff off it. Now 20 seconds before the head stalled!

      The normally-cylindrical head guide had worn after many many thousands of pages. As it skewed on that guide rod, the effect was of a brake.

      A smear of WD40 and performance was back to normal. I returned it to its place in the Stores, and the storeman thereafter applied his own fix.

      OKI's "replacement" for those was abysmal. Many failed well before the warranty expired.

      1. davef1010101010

        Re: Overheated

        I was called out to one where the fault was "it's printing backwards"

        Factory made magnets and the entire pcb was covered in a layer of magnetic dust so thick that you could barely see the ICs. Went over to the compressor/airline in the corner, blew the dust off it and it worked perfectly.

        Health and Safety, inhalation of dust etc, nobody gave a damn back then.

        But yes they were bombproof. I saw some still going strong at manchester airport a couple of weeks ago

  6. lglethal Silver badge

    I would like to think that had I been in "John's" place, I would have after realising what the Problem was, cleaned a portion of the screen, then taken the monitor back with a pack of wipes, and an admonishen that "This was not an IT issue but a Healthy and Safety Issue, and they should either take care of it themselves, or invite the H&S bods to come and take care of it...".

    Then again, if I was just an apprentice at the time like John supposedly was, I might have delegated the taking it back to the Boss and let him have that discussion with the Beancounters. Actually, fixing the issue in the way John and his Boss did, just means that all of the monitors would eventually arrive back in such a condition. Making them aware of the issue would mean they would hopefully take care of it themselves...

    1. DJV Silver badge

      I once cleaned HALF of a screen - just to demonstrate to the idiots what the problem was!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "John" here.

      This was a factory which made difficult-to-make things, and it had... safety issues. When I graduated, my first full-time post was replacing someone who had been killed on the job.

      Despite all the 10,000 atmosphere steam autoclaves, liquid nitrogen, liquid helium, lasers, 100kV ebeams, x-rays, very high speed saws, hydrofluoric acid, silver vapour, cyanide and such stuff floating about, the vast majority of the monthly health and safety meetings were spent discussing how to stop people from smoking in the bogs.

      I knew what was "Where Angel's Fear to Tread" territory. I told my boss about such things, and he was actually very good about sorting them out, as he did here,

      If Brian thought anyone was taking the piss, then stuff would just sit on the "to be repaired shelf. If people were very lucky, he would let them visit it.

      Accounts were barely technically competent enough to make a rollup.

      And I was indeed a student apprentice at the time, on a "Thin Sandwich" course.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Liquid oxygen and hydrofluoric acid were both stuff I used in my old days with no problems.

        The well known to be scary stuff is often effectively safe because it's respected. Periodically there used to be articles in the media about Abrus precatoria whose poisonous black and red seeds can be used as beads. These would usually end up with a necklace of the things making its way into the lab for identification. A toxicology colleague who'd come from East Africa where the plant grew wild said their was no problem with them - everyone knew they were poisonous so nobody tried to eat them.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Oops! Nitrogen.

          1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

            Dangers of liquid Nitrogen

            One minor problem with liquid nitrogen is that as it is regarded as relatively unreactive, people tend to think it is 'safe', disregarding the expansion ratio, possibility of cryogenic burns, and possibility of asphyxiation by displacement of normal atmosphere. The one that people don't expect is that because the boiling point of liquid nitrogen is below that of oxygen, it will condense oxygen out of a layer of air above it, and liquid oxygen is not something you want where it is not expected, especially near organic oils and greases.

            University of Glasgow: SEPS Guidance Note: Cryogenic Liquid/Solids Safety

            1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

              Re: Dangers of liquid Nitrogen

              I used to work at the place with the largest liquid Nitrogen tank in the country (outside of the producers).

              We had a huge, empty 'pond' between us and the housing estate. I never corrected anyone who thought that it was for rainwater run-off from the car park.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The biggest PITA with cyanide is that blithering idiots used to steal the the "Poppers" from the cyanide emergency kits on the walls every Friday lunchtime, to sell in the night clubs that night. This meant the company nurse had to go around them all every Monday morning and replace them.

          We also had a fantastic "Acid Shower" outside - the victim stood or was placed on a grid over a very large pit of charcoal and limestone, and a something that looked remarkably like a loo handle was pulled, and about 8 cubic metres of water was dumped on them - it literally made the floor of the tank fall out. This was every effective at deconomination - to the extent that it would wash most of their clothes off of them.

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        my first full-time post was replacing someone who had been killed on the job.

        Standard BOFH practice. Glad to hear you got going before the full weight of worldly cynicism descended.

  7. Spanners Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    IBM ATs are "liquid" proof

    The first PC I ever owned was an IBM AT. It had a CGA monitor, 20 mb had disc and a keyboard that would have stopped a bullet!

    The actual computer bit was seriously heavy (possibly that huge capacity HDD) and then it was covered in sheet steel. At that point, we had nowhere to put it so it lay beside the table. Our toddler daughter was learning to walk at that time and she came over to see me/it and sat on the box. There was a wet squelch and her overloaded nappy leaked a large quantity of liquid. I immediately yanked the power lead out of the wall and started cleaning. On removal of that steel cover, there was a completely dry inside.

    An IBM advert showed an elephant standing on the case. I don't know about that but they are certainly wee proof!

    1. Andy A

      Re: IBM ATs are "liquid" proof

      The weight of the AT was almost entirely in the metalwork. The HDD only weighed a couple of pounds.

      The original IBM PC was even sturdier. The BOFH could have disposed of enemies just by getting them to carry one, with resulting health problems covering his tracks.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: IBM ATs are "liquid" proof

        When I did a Windows 7 rollout back in 2014 a huge number of the sites I went to had such gravity-bending monsters. This being GP surgeries, one day I stood on some scales holding one - it was a third of my weight!

        To this day I'm sure that's what knackered the suspension in my car, loading them in and taking tham back to the stores for disposal.

        1. rototype

          Re: IBM ATs are "liquid" proof

          At that age I'd probably suspect they were Dell Precisions - we still have a few at work (most well over 10 years old) and due to be disposed of as soon as there's enough space in the WEEE bin...

          These things are almost literally bomb proof - claimed by my super to be one of only 3 things to survive a nuclear blast, the other 2 being Cockroaches and Tardigrays.

    2. Tim99 Silver badge

      Re: IBM ATs are "liquid" proof

      I developed a way of carrying IBM XTs within a large office block without having to disconnect the cabling. I balanced the keyboard on top of the monitor and lifted the whole system up, wedging the keyboard in place under my chin. Obviously I wasnt entirely stupid, if it was more than 2 flights of stairs in an 8 story building I took the lift. I must have been fairly fit then - It may well have contributed to my back now being stuffed though.

      Roll forwards 20+ years, I was installing some of our software on a database server for a government department. I met the department's IT bod in the car-park as we had agreed he would sign me in. He opened the boot of his car, struggled to lift out a cumbersome foldable trolly (weight >>5kg?), and unfolded it. He then reached in and removed a Toshiba notebook in its shoulder-bag (weight <2kg) and placed it on the trolly. He explained that it was "the rules" and that a number of colleagues had reported back injuries before the rule came in. Some months before, an older colleague had taken time off after hurting themselves lifting the trolly - They were still awaiting the outcome of the incident analysis to see if the rules needed modification...

    3. Rolly_Poly

      Re: IBM ATs are "liquid" proof

      Sadly the same isn't true of Amstrad 1640s.

      My cat decided to scent mark my PC and a few days later, a new motherboard was required.

  8. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    As I've mentioned before..

    This long predates computers. We had exactly the same with TVs in domestic environments.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: As I've mentioned before..

      The deposit left in a TV by those old paraffin heaters was even worse.

      1. Rolly_Poly

        Re: As I've mentioned before..

        In the late 70s, I had the joy of working for a short time, at a TV rental company.

        As a 'boy' it was my lucky role to clean the TVs when they came into the workshop.

        Half a sandwich, numerous coins, tea/coffee/beer deposits, pens, knitting needles and in one case, a dead mouse, were all retrieved (I kept the coins)

        One method of cleaning the non-solid state tellys, was to open them up and put them on a rack, outside in the rain. After they'd been left somewehere suitably warm for a few weeks, they'd receive a new coating of Fablon and back out they could go.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From the title I was expecting a different failure.

    Back at an old job when men were men and monitors were bug bulky CRTs, one of the more... fussy... engineers had to have the absolute top of the line crystal clear picture perfect monitor available RIGHT NOW for a VERY IMPORTANT PROJECT. Granted, the project did require a monitor capable of rendering good colors at a reasonable resolution. Colors didn't need to be accurately calibrated or anything (wasn't a preprint application where you needed to see that the correct shade of orange was being used, he just needed to see that sample A was "orange" and sample B was "brownish orange").

    Since the project was VERY IMPORTANT, ordering a brand new one was completely our of the question, so the best and brightest monitor in the plant was rounded up and delivered to the desk of the requesting engineer. He powered it up, and concluded it would just barely do the task required, but that the usual layer of grime on the monitor was impeding his ability to work on the project.

    With some muttering about how the IT dept. should have cleaned the monitor, he grabbed a can of general purpose spray cleaner and a couple of paper towels from the bathroom dispenser, hosed down the screen, and scrubbed off the grime. The grime and most, but not quite all, of the anti-glare coating.

    After the monitor dried, he fired up the VERY IMPORTANT APPLICATION, scrolled around the screen, and realized that the top of the line monitor was now barely suitable for work on spreadsheets.

    He quietly shut the monitor off, unplugged it, set it on the edge of his desk, and put the old monitor back in place.

    The wounded monitor sat there for a couple months IIRC. A silent reminder, or a silent warning.

    1. elaar

      Reminds me of the time a friend was "cleaning" CRTs in vintage Arcade Machines. He spent a while scrubbing off the thick grime on the rear of the tube, having no idea it was the Aquadag he was removing.

  10. DS999 Silver badge

    I'm glad I'm not old enough

    To have been in the working world when people were allowed to smoke inside. Disgusting!

    1. Old Used Programmer

      Re: I'm glad I'm not old enough

      You are, indeed, fortunate. They even used to let people smoke in elevators. My sister--not feeling well at the time--was in an elevator with a smoker. She turned to him and said, "Are you going to put that out, or do I have to throw up all over you?" He put the cigarette out.

      1. DanceMan

        Re: I'm glad I'm not old enough

        Decades ago I was stopped at a red light and saw a woman ahead of me in the adjacent lane toss a cigarette butt out the window. I don't know what came over me because I'm usually pretty meek but I got out of my car, picked up the butt and offered it back to her, "I think you dropped something." She just gave me dirty look so I threw it back inside her car.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm glad I'm not old enough

        Reminds me a bit of my tactic when they had darts/pool matches on in our local pub (Gents loos were off the 'Games Room') - I'd wait until whoever was playing had finished their turn then if the spectators refused to move I'd politely offer to widdle up their leg since they wouldn't let me get to the loo. No-one ever took me up on that offer but I did occasionally have to resort to reaching for my flies before they got the hint. The 'Ladies' (I use the term loosely) dart matches were generally the worst for this.

        AC since I still drink there occasionally.

    2. Korev Silver badge

      Re: I'm glad I'm not old enough

      I mostly avoided this, but I was doing an internship in a French developmental biology lab where smoking was only banned in the rooms but not the corridors. My supervisor used to lean to see what I was up to whilst keeping her fag just outside of the door frame.

      I was using Xylene and all sorts of other fun solvents - thankfully that never happened -->

    3. skeptical i

      Re: I'm glad I'm not old enough

      But not all people. Long while back, our office was full of cigarette smokers, and a new sales person smoked a pipe. Which of course drew complaints. From some of the cigarette smokers. I personally preferred the smell of the pipe smoke and asked my immediate boss (who chain smoked) if this wasn't a bit hypocritical and got some blah-blah about pipe smoke being stronger and therefore "worse" or whatever horse-apples she could string together on the fly. I just shook my head and discreetly offered my condolences to the sales guy when he was told to take his smoking outside. He soon moved on to a better job.

    4. John 110

      Re: I'm glad I'm not old enough

      My first job (in 1971) was in a diagnostic Microbiology Lab, based in a University building basement. The edges of the benches all had little burn marks where the fags had been carefully left on the bench and burned down, yes, even the faeces bench...

      One consultant Bacteriologist used to carry an ashtray into the lab with him.

      --> Doctor Green smoking his pipe.

  11. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    After many many many years

    in the engineering game..

    Pick 1 of 15(or more stories) about what should and should not be covering a computer

    Including "the trackpad does'nt work" (of course it does'nt if you smear a bearing with grease then use said fingers to cover the trackpad in grease too)

    "It just kinda slipped" (oily hands on the vital 'shop laptop'... thank gawd I back everything up once a week)

    "the RS232 does'nt work" (especially after someone dropped it in an oil tank)

    "the RS232 STILL does'nt work"(new cable was removed from socket by apprentice pulling on the cable and leaving the plug in the socket...)

    and many many more..... stagnant water filter left for 9 months anyone?

    We need a vomit icon

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: After many many many years

      We've got one.

  12. Marty McFly Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Restaurant computers

    Back in the early days I refurbished x286 & x386 PCs which had seen service in restaurants running a DOS based point-of-sale. Some of these lived in the kitchen between the fry cook & the flour bin - so you can imagine how they looked.

    They were already mostly dead, so no further damage could be done...but I could be the hero. I would disassemble the pieces & everything non-mechanical (including the motherboard) got a personal tour of the dishwasher in the company lunch room. More often than not, after the drying cycle was complete I had shiny and functioning parts with which to rebuild the PC.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

      Re: Restaurant computers

      Had a client in Centurion (Pretoria) once. Went into their kitchen to do some work, never went there to eat at them.

      One of the perks of being in IT is (was) that you can see the state of a restaurant's kitchen etc.

  13. aerogems Silver badge

    Once upon a time I worked as a PC repair tech for a chain store at a central depot where I never had to deal with customers directly thank $deity. A unit came in and the entire insides were literally coated with a not-so-thin layer of yellow-black tar -- I shudder to think of what the owner's lungs looked like. It wasn't quite to the level of there being stalactites or anything, but it was well on its way. Fortunately my boss at the time was pretty supportive and immediately said it was a health hazard and we could refuse service under the terms of the support contract. Took some photos of the internals and sent it back to the store. If the customer ever tried to dispute it, word never made it back to me, but I would imagine the photos and the unlucky store tech opening it up to show the customer in person would be more than enough to shut up most people.

  14. mneimeyer

    I work IT in a screen printing shop.

    1) All the goods we print are direct from the mill so they all give off fabric dust

    2) They use a spray adhesive to keep the goods from moving while they go around the screen printing machines

    3) Fabric Dust + Adhesive = Fabric Goo

    Said Goo adheres to EVERYTHING in the shop and KILLS all my poor hard working and suffering electronics...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Toner powder can do the same in reprographics shops.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Likewise, paper dust in a paper mill.

        1. NITS

          We used to have cockatiels. The birds emitted a fine white dander that got sucked into the computers by the cooling fans. Never noticed any particular problems as a result, but cleaned it out anyway whenever I had to open a case for another reason.

        2. jake Silver badge

          Likewise paper dust in a print shop.

          1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

            I just sort out conduction cooling of PC's, in a case with all the openings on just one face, which I place at the bottom. It covers most eventualities (especially if I use tape to cover all unused ports).

            However a deluge from a broken sewerage pipe somehow got inside one of them and it stinks to this day if the customer leaves it on for more than a couple of hours.

  15. JWLong

    You Ain't Seen Anything.........

    Bowling centers in the late 60's, 70's, and 80's. 30 percent of my time was spent cleaning scoring equipment every month.

    But, I have to say that it was well built. We ran one version of the equipment for 16 years until the Y2K BUG made it obsolete in 99'.

  16. Andytug

    Shameless repost, but it fits :)

    A student colleague had a summer job in the local leisure park fixing their amusement machines.....the worst ones he had to deal with were the "sit in" type arcade machines (the wireframe Star Wars type ones). For some reason the manufacturers had decided that under the seat was a good place for the mainboard..until a smallchild comes and sits in it and has an accident. Urine and solder do not get on, and there's the smell.........

    1. GloriousVictoryForThePeople

      Re: Shameless repost, but it fits :)

      Had one trs80 come in with cat piss.

      Not a lot of tracks left, and had to sit outside and try to fix it, the smell was so bad, even after the hot detergent wash treatment.

      1. irrelevant

        Re: Shameless repost, but it fits :)

        First PC I had, an Amstrad PC1512, came with my now ex-, got destroyed by cat pee.. Claimed on the household insurance as accidental damage.. It's surprising quite how devastating the stuff can be.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shameless repost, but it fits :)

      Oh, come on! The aroma of frying children insn't that bad, unless you're a hard-core vegetarian... :P

  17. Karl Vegar

    Similar to ...

    Back in the mid nighties I used to handle in house IT, and we'd started using laptops instead of stationary machines.

    Back then Dell had some issues work their keyboards, so replacement was easy and a phone call away. (Direct line to 3 lone was a massive timesaver as well.)

    So far, all good

    But we also had a user that kept smearing her hands with some lotion and eating "knekkebrød" ... let's call it crackers, not quite the same but near enough for this purpose. Keyboard files up with a nice porridge of the lotion and the crumbs, and stopped working as it should.

    Getting the kb off was simple enough, in an "attempt at recension" I left the plastic wrapper on when reassembling the laptop. For some reason this was noe appreciated by the user...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Similar to ...

      "But we also had a user that kept smearing her hands with some lotion and eating "knekkebrød" ... let's call it crackers, not quite the same but near enough for this purpose. Keyboard files up with a nice porridge of the lotion and the crumbs, and stopped working as it should."

      These days, it's hand sanitiser. Some of that stuff is horrible and never soaks into the hands, leaving sticky fingers. It tends to kill trackpads as well as keyboards.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Similar to ...

      > But we also had a user that kept smearing her hands with some lotion

      The bathroom door at home has a small patch of paint just under the door handle that is softened and bubbling-up, as though paint stripper has been applied.

      One day I might build up the courage to ask my wife what is in her hand moisturiser. ;-)

  18. phuzz Silver badge

    I had a flatmate who had a heavy World Of Warcraft problem. He spent many many hours sat chain smoking, with his PC on the desk right next to him.

    One day, he started getting graphics errors etc. I wandered in to have a look and took the side panel off, and found not just a(n expected) covering of dust, but also tobacco tar over everything. The main problem was easy to see, the small fan on the graphics card had got so gummed up, it had somehow wrenched itself free of the frame and the motor and blades were dangling on the power wires, coated in gunk..

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Cigarettes and computers . . . so many horror stories.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        And that's before you mix the two.

  19. TedF

    Nicotine 'Plating'

    Had a gold anodised pair of sliding Aluminium doors with bronzed tinted glass in a house occupied previously by chain smokers. Dated now but looked in good shape. After a few years use and prior to selling, I was giving it a thorough clean with neat 'Flash' - Silver anodising and clear glass apparently. No hint of the disgusting coating previously as it was so uniform...

  20. J. Cook Silver badge

    I've got one from when I was doing field service for a B2B / B2C computer/printer service place.

    One of our clients was a uniform company- the idea was that you bought/rented the uniforms, banquet settings, whatnot from them, and they'd pick up the dirties, clean them, and drop them back off along with doing any repairs needed.

    I was tasked with either replacing a machine or doing a PM on a machine on their 'dirty linen intake' line. Emphasis on 'dirty'. They did uniforms, linens for restaurants, banquet centers, hotels, etc. and it all went through this line. As a result, all sorts of stuff (food stuffs, silverware, etc.) was jumbled in with the linens.

    The PCs ran some software along with a barcode reader for scanning in the stuff that came in. The machine was on a wood stand about 18 inches off the floor, because their method of cleaning the place was to literally hose the floor down with a pressure washer, and previously, they had machines that literally rusted to the floors. Needless to say, the toner cleaning PPE kit was deployed when I went in.

  21. the hatter

    I do recall realising that mice didn't start to fail because the 'rubber' was coming off the rollers, but that the rollers were pure metal (or plastic) and the black rubbery layer round the middle was a well-processed buildup of human grease deposited from desks, via the ball, onto the rollers, or years/months/weeks (depending on which particular user).

    1. Ozmosis

      I found this out in my very early years in IT. As sole tech support for a small department, I used to carry a can of lighter fluid and cotton buds - 30 seconds with them and sticky balls/rollers weren't a problem any more. Security kept giving me cr*p for carrying the lighter fluid, but my boss backed me up...

  22. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Cat litter

    I used to heard CompuPro S-100 boxes in a cat litter plant back in the '80s. They put fuller's earth through a long kiln fired by waste oil.

    I had to periodically pour "fines" out of the machines in a small pile.

    If you went into the actual plant, you had to wear a mask, and you couldn't see more than 20 feet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cat litter

      The cement works had a positive pressure room for all the computer gear, but the printers would never the less grind to a halt after about 2 months. After 3-4 clean'n'lubes everything that slides , was completely reamed out and skip ready.

      My boss was not even slightly unhappy about it.

    2. irrelevant

      Re: Cat litter

      We had a customer that moved into an ex-cat litter plant. I think they just had the warehouse, but even there, every surface was covered in the stuff. You dare not lean on the walls, even. Only place I've been that had a wheel-wash for the departing lorries. They, rather sensibly in my opinion, put the office staff and thus most of the IT in a portacabin in the car park.

      Worst PC for contamination I had to fix was in the windows 3 days, an early Dell desktop from a furniture factory. It had a good half inch of sawdust inside - you couldn't even see the motherboard. Thankfully machines those days didn't need quite the level of active cooling as nowadays, but they did need some.. I think it only failed because the small fan on the processor got submerged. From the stories above, I guess I got off lucky!

    3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Cat litter

      I probably went the wrong way trying to work out what cat litter production employees do to get fined. Using the product themselves perhaps?

  23. Jaspa

    Sweaty palms

    We used to have a Colleague with the world's most sweaty palms.

    People got miffed at them having a new mouse on a regular basis.

    Turned that around one day when asked, "well do you want to clean it?"

    Never questioned again.

  24. NXM Silver badge

    where there's smoke...

    My other half's dad used to smoke like a just-started Deltic,and the car was basically a travelling ashtray. He didn't even pause to light another one up even after he spilled an entire tub of petrol all over the boot.

    He must've had a guardian angel; he didn't blow himself up. I think the only reason he survived was that he always kept the window open to blow the ash away (didn't work, but must've kept the petrol vapour away from the ciggy).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: where there's smoke...

      Witnessed a two-car crash in town in the 70s. All occupants trapped in cars. First person to get there was: "You OK? Need a fag?"

  25. Aussie Doc


    We need another round of 'Show Us Your Worst Computer' pics, methinks.

    Or maybe not.

  26. spireite Silver badge

    Used to have a colleage who had a sticky keyboard, which adopted that 'feel' very quickly from new.

    Replaced it numerous times, and an upside down shake would retrieve several lunches. Never did track down the sticky aspect, though internet monitoring of the workstation made for interesting reading,

  27. NITS

    Pool chemicals

    I've done some work in several branches of a pool supplies chain. The network jacks tended to get all green and corroded from the fumes from the chemicals they retailed. Electrical boxes in which the jacks were mounted became rusty around all the edges, including the knockouts. I understand that their computers had to be replaced every 2 to 3 years because of the corrosive chemicals in the air.

  28. iancom

    At a previous workplace, we had a number of permanent homeworkers -- they were spread around the country and never came to the office. The process for fixing their computers was simply that we send them a freshly-imaged PC from stock and get them to send back theirs which would be fixed, re-imaged and returned to stock to send to the next person.

    One of our homeworkers was a heavy smoker, and clearly did so right at the machine. The first time her PC came back, one of my team dutifully cleaned it out (several times), fixed it up, imaged it and sent it off to the next homeworker in the queue for a machine. They were horrified when they received it and demanded that we get a courier to get it out of their house immediately. When it returned and I inspected it, I could understand why. It absolutely reeked. Not amount of cleaning helped.

    After that, we kept those two PCs on strict rotation only for her. Which had the effect that she never received a spec update to the PC, but we're fairly sure she never did much work between fags in any case.

  29. Rufus McDufus

    My first job

    ...many years ago was as an operator in the comp sci department at a university which specialised in technology and medicine. We also looked after the student computing labs and all the gear and networking for the staff. Cleaning equipment was a big part of the job. One morning a lecturer came in with a keyboard which was no longer working. She happily told me she'd been sick on it and tried to clean it. First she put it under a running tap, and when that didn't do it she decided, for some bizarre reason, to use some cooking oil. Needless to say even though it was an expensive keyboard I decided not to take it apart and try and fix it.

  30. SuperGeek

    As a self employed mobile technician....

    (WARNING: If you're eating you might want to, uh, not be!)

    Not so long ago a customer of mine called me out saying his son's computer was overheating and shutting down. The son's father told me that he'd run the computer with no cover on for a few days as they'd fitted a new component and couldn't get the side panel to stay on fully. After a few days with the cover off they'd got it back on. This was under a dark desk.

    Suddenly, it had started overheating. And, they'd not been able to find the family gerbil after it had gone walkabout, three days previous, after making a break for it from its improperly latched cage. I knew what was coming, and still can't get the image out of my head. The family gerbil, headless, decimated by the CPU fan (a high torque Corsair one), splatted all inside the case. It must have been snuggled in there as they put the cover back on, snuggled under the horizontal HDD cage so they didn't see it, where it had come out to investigate the big spinny, draughty thing later on. The guy had gone to make us all cups of tea. I didn't know how to break it to him, as his daughter loved the little furry guy.

    I just walked into the kitchen and said, "I don't know how to break this to you, but I found the gerbil.....". He was smart enough to put two and two together. He told me not to bother cleaning the computer. "Chuck it in the bin, we'll buy a new one from you, and tell my son it is unrepairable."

    Phew. I didn't fancy cleaning gerbil guts at all! Nicotine is nothing in comparison! The father kept the gerbil decimation a secret, and told the kids he'd escaped out the door or a window. I built them a new PC and had the old one shredded, I wasn't stripping it.....

  31. Mynewt

    Ah, the memories <shudder>

    Around that time, the company that I used to work for used to maintain the equipment used by the French Embassy in London. No need to say that the terminals used to come back to us coated in the tar of ages, from the the fag smoke in the office.

    The first thing that I used to do was spend an hour soaking and scrubbing the equipment cases in copious amounts of Ambersil Amberclense, the muck that came of was truly revolting -)

  32. m1kesy

    Tobacco smoke and some things worse

    In the late 80s, one of our senior managers who chain-smoked, moved from a pokey little office in our tired old building to a spacious top-floor corner office within our newly built building. When they retired after only a few years we threw out all their IT equipment, and the new occupant insisted that the office be repainted and re-carpeted before moving in. They stayed less than a year because of the smell and I think it ended up being re-plastered before the next manager moved in.

    Other staff were even more feared by our team:

    1. Someone had a habit of scratching their scalp while thinking what to type into the word-processor. Consequently, their full travel mechanical keyboard regularly ended up covered with a thick layer of hair, skin and dandruff.

    2. Someone was known to unashamedly be what we referred to as a "walker" (as opposed to a "hand washer"), even when they were being observed doing it.

    I have a much more recent and far worse story involving hygiene and colleagues refusing to hotdesk, but I won't detail it as a) you might be eating, b) they might read this and realise everyone in their office and in ours knew about her dirty habits.

    PPE wasn't available for IT to use, so the latex glove you'd get with some HP printer maintenance kits was hoarded for such emergencies.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Tobacco smoke and some things worse

      Just some of the reasons that IMHO, mice and keyboards should be considered personal items and should NOT be shared between coworkers. No amount of cleaning is going to help in some cases.

  33. LivinTheDream


    Back in the early 2000's I used to work for a company that had staff onsite at a steelworks. Got called out to investigate why a PC had stopped working. Did the obvious checks (cables connected, power switched on etc) but nothing. Decided it was the power supply and opened the case. The interior was completely filled with dust to the degree that the motherboard, CPU and memory chips couldn't been seen and the fans couldn't spin so there was no air flow through the unit.

    Literally picked the PC up, took it outside and turned it upside down and shook the living daylights out of it to remove most of the dust and hoped it would start when I reconnected everything. But the PC was too far gone. Even a through cleanup back at HQ couldn't save it. To this day, I'll never understand how it never caught fire.

  34. trindflo Bronze badge


    Couple of stories:

    Had a friend ask me to take a look at his stereo. I wasn't scared of a soldering iron, so I took a look. A hive of some sort of insect had apparently gotten attracted to the warmth of the power supply, settled down there, cooked, turned into carbon, and blew out the traces. I took it to a car self-clean and sucked up the insect carcasses with an industrial vacuum then did some soldering and wire art to replace the blown traces.

    Was sent as 3rd level help (software engineers got regularly conscripted) to find out why a computer kept dying at one of our stores. I'd heard the manager expected the worst out of people and to expect the 3rd degree. Arrived with a replacement box, was escorted to the room with the machine, and they unlocked the door and left. I don't know if two words were spoken. Inside the room was a sauna. There was an air vent, but no return. Keeping the room locked was the primary problem as there was no circulation, but it wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back. I had to dig the machine out of a waist-high pile of debris: the area with the computer was being used as a giant trash can, and no untrustworthy employee who might clean was allowed back there. I'd heard another rumor the manager had some places "bugged" (not a trusting soul), so I let loose with an invective filled tirade as I did the job; I knew company policy was that spying wasn't allowed and figured it would just be amusing if he said anything. I next build a temperature monitoring system (a long time ago and there were no monitors built into the machine) so that we could force him to deal with the room.

    And some insurers will try to repair anything. Once saw a printer sent in for repair that had been run over by the delivery truck. One third of it was fully squashed flat.

  35. drewsup

    Ah yes, smokers

    Had to service a laser printer at a remote site where the guy in the room chain smoked CLOVE cigarettes…. the laser mirror, while sealed in an optics box mind you, had a concentrated fog of muck on the lead edge of every facet, causing a line of faint print down the front edge of everything that came out, it cleaned up nicely but the exterior panels were permanently brown and nothing would clean them…

  36. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge


    After all these years I now get an unpleasant memory of the pong of smokers and their cancer sticks.

    So glad I don't smoke.

  37. _gh_

    Tactile computers

    We were developing a system for taxi dispatch back in 90/91 (or rather the initial dev had disappeared and we were investigating whether we could rescue the project)

    To do that we had to bring the server and one of the clients back to our office (the joys of early PC networking systems). Anyway we thought the devices were a typical PC beige until we touched them and stuck. After carpet bombing them with all the misco PC cleaners we had it turns out they were a rather elegant grey and the yellowed beige was a result of living with the dispatchers, a crew of 4 chain smoking women who could track all 60 cabs and their pickups for the next hour plus re-routing in their heads

  38. Medixstiff

    When we first rolled out our Win10 pilot program machines, I advised one Manager that she might want to swap out her keyboard, when she asked why, I mentioned that it's probably 5 years old and you don't know what food or skin cells have made their way into the keyboard and not all of the skin cells would be hers.

    About 30 minutes later my boss advised me that the Manager had asked for a new keyboard.

  39. NoOnions

    Nail clippings

    My favourite returned laptop of last year had nail clippings over the keyboard when I opened the lid - lovely.

  40. RobDog

    Two reminiscences here

    Where I still work, there used to be a smoking area that was essentially a corridor with swing doors at each end, with a few tables and chairs for a coffee and fag break. Problem is, it was (and is) a very handy shortcu between two significant offices. To use it, you stood at one end and gulped in a lungful of air, opened the ‘airlock’ door and Olympic-walked the 50m and released the air at the other end. It saved your lungs but your clothes still scoope up the smoke and you could smell it on you.

    Secondly, my older brother had an Atari ST but only ever played games on it, but fags were cheap then and he routinely went through 20 a day. But he was the brawn of the family; every couple of weeks I was paid a fiver (lot of money when you’re 15 in the mid 80s) for opening up his ST and giving it a clean out, after I’d told him all the ash was the cause of it overheating and causing disk read errors.

  41. Walter Fettich

    jeez, imagine all that tar was also in those people's lungs. And you can't just whip out the ethanol-ed cloth and scrub it away.

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