back to article Chemical plant taken offline by the best one of all: C8H10N4O2

A lot of folks in technology and affiliated industries use caffeine as stimulant of choice. A hot cup of Joe is just the thing at the start of a long day shift after an all-nighter, because sleep is for the weak. Importantly, though, it must not be shared with the computers. This week's Who, Me? concerns a reader we'll …

  1. simonlb Silver badge

    Ah, but what was the coffee?

    A crashppuccino?

    1. Blofeld's Cat

      Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

      As there were two processors it could have been a "double espresso".

    2. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

      Did Martin go flat-white when it happened?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

        Did Martin go flat-white when it happened

        Of course, as this accident was definitely grounds for dismissal...

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

          Lucky for him, it wasn't instant.

    3. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

      Were the people no longer allowed in the room told to fucoffee?

    4. cosmodrome

      Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

      Short one, dark roast.

    5. Major N

      Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

      if only it had been a Machiniatto

    6. Scott 53

      Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

      It's a shame the computer wasn't robusta.

    7. slimshady76

      Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

      I guess there arabiga problems to take care of. That's what George's manager must have thought before firing him.

    8. Jedit Silver badge

      Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

      Please, hasn't the man suffered enough without this mocha-ry?

      1. Swarthy

        Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

        That's a latte of bad coffee puns...

        1. Scott 53

          Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

          That's a latte of bad coffee puns...

          Most of them were thought of in an instant.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

            "Most of them were thought of in an instant."

            So, no grounds for dismissal then? No wonder he kept his job!

    9. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Ah, but what was the coffee?

      Who hasn't bean there?

  2. chivo243 Silver badge

    Better yet...

    Ever opened a computer that had drank the coffee, and didn't keel over? One that keep running and was only opened during a schedule routine maintenance? Ughhh, what a horrible smell, what a gooey mess, I think it was cafe au lait...

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Better yet...

      I haven't bean that (un)lucky

    2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Better yet...

      No, but I've had to clean out a few keyboards that have been taken out by a judiciously placed drink or two. That can be... interesting.

      1. Flightmode

        Re: Better yet...

        I worked for a reseller in the late nineties. The store manager sold one of his preferred customers a state-of-the-art Toshiba Satellite Pro laptop, only to have it returned after a week - "the kids" had spilled coca cola in the keyboard. Since he was the store manager, he used his clout with our head office techs to replace the parts that needed replacing on-the-house (we were the authorized Toshiba repair shop at the time so had a lot of spares lying around). The customer was all smiles and couldn't contain how happy he was; they were having an office party that coming weekend and he wanted to let the employees see this new Internet thing, so his computer was left on a desk for everyone at the party to play with.

        Come Monday morning, the customer was back in the store, saying that the computer unexplainedly had stopped working during the party. Our techs soon figured out why; the innards of the machine were covered in red wine (dat smell!). Somehow, the manager once again managed to swing a repair - this time he had to involve the vendor and convince them of the goodwill. (Given that this was a tiny customer, I don't know how he managed that.) The customer was a bit more sheepish this time, but nevertheless grateful; and promised that when they had their office Christmas party in a few weeks, he'd make sure that the keyboard was protected! (Yes, there may have been some light-hearted ribbing from the sales rep.)

        A few Mondays later the customer was back in the shop, saying that the computer had again died - but this time it wasn't his fault because he'd covered the whole damn thing in cling film to prevent against accidental spills! The store manager was none too impressed, but sent it up to the technical team again, suspecting that the machine might have overheated from being hermetically sealed in plastic... The techs called him back the next morning to let him know that the whole computer was full of candle wax; and that the key tops were scratched as if someone had scraped them clean before handing it in.

        That time, the customer had to pay, and quite a premium too. And was suggested to lock away his computer before uncorking.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Better yet...

          You'd think he'd have learned by incident number one that electronics (like a laptop) make for terrible party decorations....

        2. chivo243 Silver badge

          Re: Better yet...

          light-hearted ribbing...

 ribbed condoms?!! Dat der is some protection!

          1. Zarno

            Re: Better yet...

            You may laugh, but a common boating/rafting/fishing trick in the days of Nokia candybars was to use an unlubricated gentleman's sausage casing as a waterproofing device for ones mobe.

            Oh Paris, how we miss your icon...

      2. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Better yet...

        That was my first real hardware cockup.

        I volunteered to fix the boss' keyboard that she'd just chucked a cup of coffee over. I dismantled it, washed all the placcy bits out and carefully cleaned all the sensitive bits with cotton buds and alcohol. I then reassembled it and to ensure it was thoroughly dry before trying it out, stuck it on a heater...... which melted it.

      3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Better yet...

        I've not tested it in anger yet, but I decided that it was worth splashing out (pun intended) on a decent keyboard that not only has proper mechanical switches, but also a waterproof membrane. It is allegedly not only coffee-proof but impermeable to nastier things like sweet fizzy phosphate-buffer...

      4. Spanners Silver badge

        Re: Better yet...

        My favourite instance of washing coffee out of a keyboard was when the nurse followed me into the sluice room and screamed at me putting it under the running tap!

        I hadn't made a nurse scream fo years!

      5. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re: Better yet...

        I cleverly managed to pour the better part of a coke (beverage, not marching powder) into my work laptop. Off to the toilet and under the tap with warm water for a little while. Leaving it to dry, ie passenger seat while driving home, and all was fine.

        Water usually is not that bad for electronics. Sugery, sticky, corrosive stuff is what gets it.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Better yet...

      A friend managed to spill espresso across her laptop. Fortunately she had the presence of mind to pull the power and the battery straight away, and then brought it to me for a once over before trying to turn it back on.

      (If only our users were as sensible as our friends!).

      Apart from a bit of cleaning, it was basically ok, but as soon as it warmed up, the scent of espresso began to waft.

      She was quite happy with her coffee-scented laptop, but personally I can't stand the smell or taste of the stuff :(

      1. Wally Dug

        Re: Better yet...

        One of our sales reps spilled coffee on his laptop keyboard. He managed to get it as clean as he could and then that's where his issues started - he used a hairdryer to dry off the keyboard, whose keys promptly began to melt.

        He confessed immediately, brought his laptop in that day and was absolutely delighted when we were able to replace his keyboard with one from a dead laptop. He bought us a nice big tub of chocolates by way of thanks.

        1. chivo243 Silver badge

          Re: Better yet...

          I wish El Reg let us post pics, I had a user do the same thing, and I have the pix to prove it, somewhere...

          1. Caver_Dave Silver badge
            Thumb Down

            Re: Better yet...

            I have pics of a very old laptop (Epson PX4) that was in a record shop closed down due to a sewerage leak. I will not be sharing the photographs that the insurance company insisted that we took of the outside and then opened up case.

        2. Killfalcon Silver badge

          Re: Better yet...

          I once cleaned out an old desktop keyboard, and soaked the keys in warm soapy water - this worked well, except for the long, thin space bar, which developed a noticeable twist...

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Better yet...

            "warm soapy water"

            Too 'warm', obviously

            On a serious note: A couple of steradent tablets in barely warm water (or a scoop of any oxygen bleach - it's the same thing in tablet form) works wonders on grotty keys (put them all loosely in a sealed container and shake well) and rinsing afterwards in ~75% isopropyl is the best drying agent as well as being a good biocide (95% is less effective as well as potentially damaging the plastic)

        3. Man inna barrel

          Re: Better yet...

          I think a hairdryer capable of melting plastic might not be good for your hair.

      2. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Better yet...

        Good thinking on her part re the battery.

        Sadly in "modern" laptops and the mania for "slim" the era of easily accessed & removed laptop batteries seems to be almost over, making a spillage potentially a lot worse than it used to be when battery was easily removed.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Better yet...

          Not had coffee seepage through the keyboard on HP or Lenovo laptops, but the keyboard themselves seem to die. The simplest workaround seems to be to give the user a USB keyboard (we have a large stack), whilst a replacement is sourced. After 2~4 weeks of this, they tend to take more care of the repaired laptop than if it had been immediately swapped...

        2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          Re: Better yet...

          Funny you mention this.

          My most recent laptop was a Dell Precision 5520, one of the new slim aluminum ones. The batteries tend to push up the touchpad when they thicken and die. As did mine. I was WFH at the time. IT guy asked me if I felt competent to replace it, to which I responded in the affirmative (I'm an embedded EE, with my own workbench at home).

          Amazon package shows up a few days later, and I open up (remove the back panel from) the machine (6 or 8 screws, easily removed) and unplug the old battery, remove it, drop in the new one and replug. Back goes the rear cover and everything's good (except the touchpad isn't bowed up any more).

          It's not like it was an Apple, after all.

          This is funny, because this week, I'm about to replace the screen on my daughter's MacBook. I've been watching the You Tube videos, which are a fantastic resource if you every have to repair something unfamiliar.

          1. X5-332960073452

            Re: Better yet...

            Much better -

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Better yet...

        "(If only our users were as sensible as our friends!)."

        Sadly, pulling the battery out is no longer an option on most laptops.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Better yet...

          Getting them to stand the laptop on the front edge on an absorbant surface (towel) seems to help (less stuff for the liquids to damage along this edge)

    4. Swarthy

      Re: Better yet...

      I had a laptop killed by Ovaltine. A kid's friend spilt a cup of the stuff, mixed with milk, all over it. they and the kid cleaned it "all" up to hide the misadventure. they did not get the stuff in the vents, or that had seeped into the keyboard. a day or so later when the laptop became non-functional I found a green-ish plastic/rubber looking substance that was quite durable blocking all of the vents.

      It turns out that milk + Ovaltine polymerizes when it dries.

      1. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

        Re: Better yet...

        Worst drink related damage I've seen was from herbal tea - some lemon and honey related concoction. A hellish combination for electronics and keyboard mechanisms.

      2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re: Better yet...

        I had a laptop killed by Ovaltine

        That's nothing. When I was a kid, Ovaltine nearly killed me! Yes, it took me a little while to realise that I cannot stand that stuff.

    5. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Better yet...

      Makes me think of my microwave. Made the mistake of putting something in there that has persisted for days and mixes with the smell of other things I put in there. I've been tempted to find something to keep the light off and then leave the door open for a couple days to let it air out.

      1. Wally Dug

        Re: Better yet...

        On our microwave, we have a switch that puts the light off. Follow the cable coming out of the microwave until it reaches the wall. Do you have a switch there, too?

        1. Snowy Silver badge

          Re: Better yet...

          Or maybe some kind of connector you could disconnect?

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Better yet...

            Yeah, but then he'd have to find the long-gone instruction manual and work out how to set the clock again!!

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Better yet...

        > I've been tempted to find something to keep the light off and then leave the door open for a couple days to let it air out.

        Alternatively, you could try cleaning it...

    6. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Better yet...

      Printing calculators in the pre- desktop-peecee days. It was worse if they had lots of sugar

      (It was so common we had a procedure for it - which involved a bucket and hot soapy water)

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I would have thought

    That the change in procedures would be more concerned with forbidding any liquids than with who could enter.

    After all, it wasn't George's coffee that caused the problem.

    1. ChoHag Silver badge

      Re: I would have thought

      We know this, but also remember that Martin wasn't fired.

    2. Schultz

      ...forbidding any liquids ...

      So you can punish every innocent coffee drinker in the company or you can punish the select few who were in the room where it happened.

  4. trevorde Silver badge

    Java upgrade

    Heard the story about some minion who was continually pestering IT for a computer upgrade. He was told to his face that the only reason for an upgrade was if his machine died.

    He asked if accidentally spilling a cup of coffee would kill the machine. When it was confirmed that that would definitely send the machine to PC heaven, he opened the lid and poured his cup of sugary coffee over the motherboard.

    He got the computer upgrade.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Java upgrade

      I had somebody do this circa 2000 when they wanted an upgrade from a ~450 Mhz Pentium II PC to the brand new 1Ghz boxes; so as your chap did they blew their PC up. (though I think they did theirs by flipping the PSU switch to 120v and getting a large BOOM when the PSU blew)

      Given that the firm was a partnership, I pointed out to the partner responsible for him that it was almost certainly deliberate, and that giving the user a new PC would encourage a large spate of "accidental" destruction of PC's. Since in a partnership, the replacements basically came out of the partners pocket he displayed a humorous smile and then asked what the slowest computer we had available was.

      The user ended up with a elderly Pentium I box saved from the scrap pile that if I recall rightly did 133Mhz and was only just barely capable of running Windows, which he kept for something like 9 months before the partner decided us to give him an upgrade: to a Pentium II box freed up from somebody else who'd had a new PC.

      Everybody else in the office was fully aware of what had happened, and it appeared to have deterred everybody from killing anything else.

      1. Snowy Silver badge

        Re: Java upgrade

        Very smart thinking, have one of these >>>

      2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Java upgrade

        We had an idiot who thought he was being clever in that way. He was in fact committing criminal damage, as he found out when he was frogmarched out in handcuffs. Idiot ended up with a criminal record, a bill for the damage, and no job.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Java upgrade

      Does anybody here remeber Nextels? A friend had a first or second-gen one, and since he was paying insurance over it, the company was supposed to replace the broken ones with what was current at the time. He want a Palm-based Nextel, so he ran his car over his old Motorola one. Took it to the Nextel shop, the guy powers it on, and the darn gadget works flawlessly. My friend takes off the shop blowing steam off his ears, and next day comes back with the the Nextel in a Ziploc bag, basically ground to pieces. He worked at a customs depot, so he arranged for one of his pals to make several passes over it with one of those heavy fork lifts they use to move containers around.

      This time he got his Palm-based Nextel, altough in the end he hated it because of the poor battery life and lagging interface.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Java upgrade

        This time he got his Palm-based Nextel, altough in the end he hated it because of the poor battery life and lagging interface.

        Be careful what you wish for, you might get it ;)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Java upgrade

      I can just imagine what would happen with our IT department if anyone did that deliberately:

      "What will I get if I pour a cup of coffee into my old rubbish laptop?"


    4. simonlb Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Java upgrade

      I didn't use coffee for my office PC replacement. I just took the base unit and power cable into an empty meeting room, flipped the voltage selector on the back of the PC to 120V from 240v, plugged it in and turned the plug socket on. Boom!

      A quick flick of the voltage selector back to 240v and rocked up at the IT dept saying it just stopped working and I could smell burning...

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Java upgrade

        Sadly (or not), most PSUs these days are switched-mode, so don't even have a voltage switch on them (the last time I can recall even seeing one was probably about 20 years ago). Even things like cheap phone chargers tend to handle multiple different input voltages seamlessly.

  5. GlenP Silver badge


    Not as serious but I did, many years ago, manage to spill half a mug of coffee into an HP monitor. Fortunately it was unsweetened, an immediate power off and leaving it to drain/dry overnight and it continued working without any issues.

    In my experience it's sugary soft drinks that do the most damage - Fanta in a keyboard resulted in a full strip down and scrub under the tap (back when keyboards were expensive but robust enough to stand such treatment). Full fat coke in a laptop, then ignored for a couple of days, was far more damaging - result was a new laptop due to the damage caused.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Coffee...

      One of those orange drinks applied by one of my kids (and no knowledge of what is now well known maintenance techniques) wrote off one of my IBM Model Ms. It actually glued the membrane together, and trying to peel it apart pulled the conductive tracks off. Repainting with conductive paint did not restore the function.

      Of course, now I know you can wash Model Ms, and it is even possible to purchase new membranes (from Unicomp), but I ended up discarding it. I really should have kept it longer, or as spare parts, something I regret now.

    2. khjohansen

      Sugary soft drinks ...

      Asides from the sugar making the fluid sticky, tends to contain liberal amounts of citric acid, to make the sugars bearable to the human palate ... sticky+acidic=nasties

      1. Stork Silver badge

        Re: Sugary soft drinks ...

        Or in case of Coke, phosphoric acid which is even better.

        If you have a rusty screw stuck, try to pour original Coke on and leave it some hours. Phosphoric acid dissolves rust, and the sugar makes it stay to work.

        1. PerlyKing

          Re: Phosphoric acid

          ... aka paint stripper. Literally.

        2. WonkoTheSane

          Re: Sugary soft drinks ...

          Phosphoric acid is also the active ingredient in alloy wheel cleaner.

          1. John McCallum

            Re: Sugary soft drinks ...

            It is also used in some powder coating plants to treat steel before the coating operation, I guess it gets rid of grease or something.

          2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Sugary soft drinks ...

            'Also' is wrong, since the other part isn't true.

            For some perspective, alloy wheel cleaners contain around 10-30% pure phosphoric acid, and a bunch of hydrochloric acid etc.

            Coke contains 0.017% phosphoric acid. It's roughly as acidic as lemon juice, which is... not very much.

        3. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: Sugary soft drinks ...

          Why do people repeat these absurd urban myths? Coke does pretty much bugger all to rust, as shown in any number of youbook videos. It is a dreadful penetrating agent for stuck screws - actual penetrating agents are not acids, but low-viscosity oils.

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: Sugary soft drinks ...

            If anything, it is going to be a rusting agent. Once the acid has been neutralised by reacting with the iron, it's pretty much the definition of such. Rust needs three things to form: an oxidiser (usually oxygen), moisture, and ions to transport the electrons from the rusting surface to the air. This is why things rust much faster in seawater than in fresh water.

            1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

              Re: Sugary soft drinks ...

              Well, phosphoric acid is used as 'rust converter' treatments. It does work, you just need to wash it off and then dry and seal the surface afterwards. It just won't work at tiny concentrations, when accompanied by lots of sugar.

      2. Zelazny

        Re: Sugary soft drinks ...

        It must have been about 15 years ago, I bought myself a new PC. Put it together myself, with all the latest parts, and a lovely big case, with neon lights inside, and big fan enclosures. One of the fans was right at the top at the back of the case, and I had the case sit beside my desk, so I could look right down into it and see the pretty lights.

        A short time later, I realised that if I had a drink on the edge of my desk and knocked it off, just about all of the liquid went straight through the fan and onto the motherboard. Luckily (?) I did this with Diet Coke. I immediately powered it off, opened it all up, used paper towels to remove as much moisture as I could, and let it dry. It powered on just fine two days later, and there didn't seem to be any lasting problems. I did then move the PC, and was a lot mroe careful with my drinks...

        I sounds like I'd have been in trouble if it wasn't diet

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Re: Sugary soft drinks ...

          Yep, i only drink diet drinks around my pc, and indeed in the works van. Spills can be cleaned up easily

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Coffee...

      Modern keyboards are still robust enough to scrub in the sink, I had to do it just last week to a cheapy HP model.

      I did remove the electronics first, I'm sure they'd have been fine with a bit of tap water, but I'd have had to wait longer to make sure they were dry. I also already had to take the keyboard apart to clean it properly.

    4. Manolo

      Re: Coffee...

      Cola is corrosive. Contains phosphoric acid and has a pH of around 3.5.

      I only drink it when it is adequately diluted with a more innocuous liquid, like rum.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Coffee...

        Even coffee is corrosive when it has sugar in it. Seeing copper tracks eaten away was a routine thing if people didn't bring spillage devices in quickly (in the days before conformal coating was routinely applied to everything)

  6. Giles C Silver badge

    Coffee as glue

    During a refresh years ago we discovered that coffee would if spilt under a pc (big beige compaq units) and wasn’t cleaned up it would glue the machine to the desk.

    We found this was the case when to get the old machine off the desk we had to resort to levering it up and in a couple of cases it took the surface laminate off as well.

    1. Killfalcon Silver badge

      Re: Coffee as glue

      One place I was in had the machines in little slings under the desk to maximise desk-space. As a result, I can confirm that spilt coffee will also glue monitor stands to the desk!

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: Coffee as glue

      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. skeptical i
        Thumb Up

        Re: Coffee as glue

        "all that was left was the dusty ancient ruins of their civilisation"

        My name is Coffeemandias.

    3. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

      Re: Coffee as glue

      Once doing routine maintenance on a Compaq low-profile pizza-box-style PC, I found couldn't pick the PC up off the cubicle desk. I presumed it had some sort of security bolt locking the PC to the desk surface. I looked beneath the desk ... nope. I tried picking it up again, and bent backwards and broke multiple fingernails. Finally, I rotated the pizza-box, heard a CRACK!, and it was freed.

      Coffee + artificial creamer + sugar == LocTite.

    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Coffee as glue

      For future reference: adding water and leaving it 15 minutes usually allows things to unstick again

      1. Not Yb Bronze badge

        Re: Coffee as glue

        For future reference: Adding water and forgetting you had for 24 hours usually just makes it worse. (ha)

  7. Norman Nescio Silver badge

    Telephone Switchboard Operators

    One of my aged relatives used to train Public Telephone Switchboard Operators for a living. At that time, the operators were required to have a minimum height, so they could reach the highest sockets on the switchboard, and were under strict instructions to drink coffee without milk or sugar. Apparently, plain coffee was not fatal to the switchboard, but milk or sugar would make it unrecoverable.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never had a problem with drink.

    Had a monitor that was arcing out because of a hair. Blew it out and it was fine. And a keyboard that was basically a biohazard given the amount of old food that came out of it when turned upside down and given a shake.

    Oh - but been through a few of the old mice with all manner of junk caught in the inner workings <insert your favourite joke about dirty balls here>.

    1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      "Never had a problem with drink."

      Lucky you.

      (Mine's the one with the "One Day" chip in the pocket, with the hip flask...)

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Always worth directing people to this optical illusion:

    3. usbac Silver badge

      The famous "Mouse Balls" memo:

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    coffee and laptop

    One day, back in the now long gone years when I was putting my coffee cup 5 cm close to my laptop, I managed to pour all the full cup in the PCMCIA slot of the laptop.

    I remember well the "click" sound followed by a loud silence hinting at laptop dead.

    Now I always put the cup 40 cm away :)

  10. Christoph

    a genius widely regarded as "harmless".

    So he is now "Mostly harmless"?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can confirm that the old Apricot PC's with amber screen, 20 Mb HDD (helpfully A: not C:) and the calculator built into the keyboard do not respond well to vending machine vegetable soup... in fact they never respond to anything again. (Thankfully it was not my soup)

    Hazy memories of being a spotty youth on work experience at a local computer company, being the only person that could fix a common fault with the Oki laser printers (small fingers) and discovering a floppy filled with ascii pron (some of it was even animated).

    1. Tom 7

      (helpfully A: not C:)??

      And does anything respond well to vending machine vegetable soup? I never did understand why they decided to use non-water soluble ingredients in it/

      1. Giles C Silver badge

        Apricot used to use a; for the internal hard drive unlike all the other machines, I never used one but it was easy to accidentally format the hard drive rather than a floppy disk.

  12. Roger Greenwood

    Beautiful write up

    I wonder where they are now?

  13. ChipsforBreakfast

    Alcohol + CRT = fun!

    I have witnessed the result of a poorly-placed CRT encountering an entire pint of lager. Spectacular light show, copious smoke and one fire-alarm induced evacuation later management were persuaded to relocate the monitor away from the end of the reception desk nearest the bar....

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: a poorly-placed CRT encountering an entire pint of lager.

      I like how it was the CRT that was poorly placed, rather than the lager :-)

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: a poorly-placed CRT encountering an entire pint of lager.

        Any easily spilt on electronics near a bar is definitely poorly placed. Lager misplacement in the general vicinity of a bar is a given, it'll happen sooner rather than later.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My beloved employers invoked their service contract to send someone to my house to sort their very expensive CRT monitor when it stopped working. The chap who came got it working and very kindly agreed not to say anything about the large quantity of vomit he had to remove from the HT side of things. After that I discouraged the cat from sleeping on top of the monitor.

    1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge


      In my case, it wasn't a single catastrophic spill, but rather a long slow accumulation. Having realized that my laptop's keyboard needed cleaning, I pulled off all the key caps, only to find a solid mat of dog hair physically interfering with key travel. (Her individual hairs were, if I recall, about 1-1.5 cm long -- just perfect for working their way down between the keys.) Cleaning that out wasn't disgusting, but it was fairly arduous.

      Come to think of it, the same dog did cause catastrophic failure in another laptop's keyboard. She jumped up into my lap while the machine was already there. Broke the F key beyond my ability to repair it...

  15. DailyLlama

    Java installation

    I arrived at work one morning to be greeted with the news that "someone tried to install Java on one of the MFD printers, and it didn't work".

    As I was pre-coffee myself, it took me a while to work out what they meant. When I got upstairs, I found that someone had put a pint of freshly brewed coffee on the sorter unit of the MFD (cost ~£20,000), and proceeded to print out their days instruction booklets. Whereupon the sorted had duly started moving up and and down rapidly, and spilled the pint of coffee into the printer.

    Fortunately this user was only a partial idiot, and had turned the printer off to prevent anything too bad from happening... so I separated all the parts I could, and we dried as much as we could with paper towels, and then I raised a ticket with our printe management company. Who turned up a couple of hours later, and miraculously, nothing had gotten inside it.

    It did smell nice for a couple of weeks though!

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: Java installation

      All is forgiven (or should be), as

      - they did react correctly

      and (more importantly)

      - it was their first coffee, I guess. Mitigating circumstances, right? (... please...)

  16. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    been there

    the rules about who did and who did not get to go into the computer room were rather more tightly enforced.

    I've worked at that place (or similar ) The old man still employed there with the legacy knowledge was the one responsible for the coffee based rule enforcement some years previously.

    Its hard to see how it happened in a standard rack environment , but he did it!

    1. Bitsminer Silver badge

      Re: been there

      We had a biggish machine room full of VAXes and Non-Stoppers and whatnot. We had many signs and rules prohibiting drink and drinking and food etc. etc.

      One of the whatnots was a Microdata machine used by the accountants. It was a legacy (at the time) 8080-based multi-user system. Quite the gadget.

      Being "legacy" it was carefully ignored until it didn't work. They sent a technician. Who upon entering said room pulled out his vacuum cleaner and blew about 10 years of dust all around our multiple VAXes.

      By the time we saw it happen it was all both senses of the word.

      Nothing much came of it though. (We didn't even change the signs.)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: been there

        "Who upon entering said room pulled out his vacuum cleaner and blew about 10 years of dust all around our multiple VAXes."

        That was silly. Vacuum cleaners are supposed to suck when in normal operation. Blow is on option on some. And any service tech who knows what they are doing never uses the blow option because they really, really don't want a cloud of dust of unknown provenance forced into a cloud around their head waiting to be breathed in!

        1. Alistair

          Re: been there

          Oddly, I have a contrasting experience.

          Industrial laser printer for printing cheques.

          Unit was about 25 feet long and could chew through 5000 pages of (even for the time) fairly heavy weight paper in about 32 minutes. Job queue on an Amdhal system, and a small unix head unit. We had to stop and pull every 700th imaged cheque to validate alignment and print quality and readability.

          Every 3 months one of the units (we had two) was supposed to receive a full vendor servicing. However said vendor was, well, no longer in business shall we say. Fortune smiles, because said vendor servicing team had, on their final visit (Okay his, and the reason the visits and maintenance took so long was because he was about 115 years old, deaf as a post and about as happy to be in our city as a kangaroo would be to be in Moscow in January) left basically his entire kit sitting in one of our equipment lockers, along with detailed instructions on how to execute said maintenance.

          One of the steps was to take the compact, high velocity vacuum cleaner to the entirety of the lower belt path. By using the exhaust hose to blow things loose *while* using the intake hose to suck stuff up. Oddly, the trick worked. He just had TWO hoses for the thing, with a slightly constrained nozzle on the exhaust hose.

  17. demonwarcat

    A friend of mine used to run a PC repair business. As I result I saw a variety of machines that had imbibed various fluids. Black coffee without sugar was generally survivable. At the other end of the scale orange juice was terminal.

    1. Adrian 4

      > At the other end of the scale orange juice was terminal.

      As was beer.

      Recollections of a calculator returned for repair from a brewery in Wolverhampton. A lovely machine with nixies all in a row and a hand-designed circuit board with swirly traces instead of modern straight lines.

      And green stuff that shouldn't have been there.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      As a kid, I had a room with a terrazzo floor. This is concrete with embedded marble chips and some sort of sealant.

      I discovered orange juice not only ate the sealant, it ate the concrete, resulting in a splash-shaped area of exposed marble chips.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        I once worked in a public building with a similar floor, full of marble chips. Being the main entrance, it got very dirty over time with many hard to remove stains. So one of the cleaners decided one night to pour the neat cleaning fluid across the floor then use the normal rotary floor scrubber on it. If fizzed in reaction to meeting the marble and left small impossible to clean indentations across almost the entire floor. It never recovered and was never replaced or repaired. The Council simply could not afford it. Eventually the entire building was demolished to make way for new houses.

    3. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

      Orange Juice

      A friend with an out-of-warranty Mac 512KE and a very young child called me up and said her little girl had spilled orange juice into the keyboard, and now it wasn't working. I told her to power down the Mac, disconnect the keyboard, fill her bathtub with enough cold water to completely cover the keyboard, put the keyboard into the tub and let it soak for a day, swoosh the KB around in the water a bunch, pull it out, let it air-dry for a week, then plug it in again and try it.

      She was horrified at this suggestion. I pointed out her Mac was already out-of-warranty, the keyboard didn't work as-was, and that she'd be lose nothing if the attempted fix failed.

      Her keyboard worked afterward.

    4. usbac Silver badge

      Back a long time ago when I worked for a managed services company, I had a client that was an analytical chemistry laboratory. Their in-house network admin became a good friend of mine.

      One day I was over working on some switching hardware, and he asked me for some advice getting spilled coffee out of an expensive keyboard. I asked him "you guys probably have a water de-ionization system, don't you?". He answered "yes, we have a fancy new system that takes up a whole room". I told him "go and get us a few gallons of DI water"

      He brings back a few jugs of DI water, I grab a big flat plastic tub, and we set up the tub full of DI water on his workbench. He looks at this with a great deal of suspicion when I tell him that he can wash keyboards in this water. So, at this point I grab the keyboard from his powered on workbench PC, and I'm about to drop it in the water...

      He yells "Noooooooo..." as I drop the keyboard into the water. The look on his face when I reach into the water and start typing on the keyboard was priceless. When he saw that the keyboard was working totally fine, under water, he couldn't believe it. Their DI system could produce water in the tens of gigaohms range, so there was really no risk at all.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        "When he saw that the keyboard was working totally fine, under water, he couldn't believe it. Their DI system could produce water in the tens of gigaohms range, so there was really no risk at all."

        No, he couldn't believe you were that dumb. The water _was_ deionised, and then you dropped a bunch of dirt into it. It will have been fine for a few seconds, after that, esp the more typing/mixing you did, it would be increasingly conductive.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          That really depends on how soluble that dirt is, and whether it is ionic. Given that if the muck in the keyboard was water soluble and ionic, it would almost certainly already not be working if there was any significant amount in there, and even if there was, the electrical conductivity of the (probably sealed with varnish) copper tracks in the keyboard would be much higher than that of the water, and the control voltages in keyboards are typically low, so the only thing to worry about might be the small possibility of a short-circuit in an individual switch. In a decent keyboard, with mechanical switches, the gap between the switch being open and closed is quite big, so I think this concern is a bit overblown.

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            "Given that if the muck in the keyboard was water soluble and ionic, it would almost certainly already not be working if there was any significant amount in there"

            Dried sweat is extremely water soluble, ionic, and not going to do anything unless the keyboard is dunked in water.

            "the control voltages in keyboards are typically low, so the only thing to worry about might be the small possibility of a short-circuit in an individual switch."

            Agreed, I doubt it would do any harm to immerse most keyboards in salt water while powered on - disregarding eventual corrosion. But you would get a bunch of false signals.

            "In a decent keyboard, with mechanical switches, the gap between the switch being open and closed is quite big"

            Well, imagine you have a dirty key mechanism/contact. You press the key once, and on the way down and up it leaves a trail of soluble stuff in the water immediately surrounding it. If there isn't lots of flow to wash it away, you likely have a low-resistance path directly between the two contact surfaces.

  18. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge

    Orange Squash

    Sun SPARCStation 2 keyboards were lovely. And expensive. One of the analysts was fond of a pint of squash by the workstation....

    For some reason elbow met pint...denials all round, and lots of squeaky bum moments for the project until I, then the PFY of the operation, volunteered to see if I could save it.

    The answer was yes I could, at the cost of an afternoon with a couple of small screwdrivers and lots of absorbant towels between each of the (IIRC - it was a while ago) 5 membrane layers, followed by clean water rinses and drying in the sun. I was surprised by how much liquid could fit inside one of those keyboards without leaking!

    Ah the good old days where hardware was actually worth money.

    1. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Re: Orange Squash

      Not to do with computers, but equally expensive at the time (early 80s) we had a VCR destroyed by a cassette from our local video rental place. The previous renter had managed to spill orange squash into the cassette... it physically tore the heads off the machine. To add insult to injury, the video store threatened to charge US for the damage to their precious tape. Fortunately my mother had a solicitor... they ended up paying for the repairs

  19. Stu Wilson

    Instrument Artificer

    Nice to see that title still around, from one old tiffy to another, cheers

    Mines the one with coffee

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: Instrument Artificer


      (ICI Hudds 1977-1981)

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Instrument Artificer

      I remember when I first hear that word, Artificer. Being quite young, and possible having just read H. G. Wells War Of the Worlds, I assumed it was a contraction of Artillery Officer :-)

  20. Death Boffin

    Indescribable Stuff

    The business machines company I worked for had a Chinatown butcher as a customer. We supplied them with adding machines and a support contract. Retrieving broken machines from there was a horror story. Indescribable critters hanging from hooks in the back. Indescribable stuff on all surfaces. Indescribable coating on the adding machines. A thorough scrub down with isopropyl was necessary before even thinking about repairs. The support contract was quite lucrative though.

  21. TimMaher Silver badge

    We had a customer...

    ... and they had a computer suite (remember them?) that had some really fast 132 column chain printers in it.

    When one of them ran out of paper, the lid opened automatically.

    You can imagine.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Coffee tangent

    On a side note... turns out that too much coffee might not be a good thing for you,

    FWIW, as my age advanced I found myself increasingly constipated.

    When I finally discussed this with a physician, I was advised to cease my excessive consumption of caffeine (dehydrating).

    Problem solved by switching to tea but... I REALLY did miss coffee/caffeine.

    Coffee was a much bigger part of my life than I had realized.

    As a teenager in the 70's, I spent a LOT of time just hanging out in coffee houses.

    When I entered the workforce, coffee was an essential fuel.

    I routinely consumed large amounts of coffee from dawn to dusk, fall sleep (without any issues) and upon waking... repeat.


    Another favorite beverage of mine was cranberry juice.

    Sadly not that good for older individuals so eventually, I had to give that up too.

  23. TooOldForThisSh*t

    Hazardous Customers

    Three customers stand out from my time with a computer reseller in the USA as a service tech in the 80's:

    #1. A foundry with black dust everywhere. Inside every nook & cranny of a printer or computer and every surface in the offices.

    #2. A large pig farm. No dust or other contaminants, but the smell was HORRENDOUS.

    #3. A manufacturer of fiberglass products. A fine white power everywhere and inside everything.

    All three were customers that required on-site repairs and cleaning. Probably still some of that residue in my pores and orifices to this day :)

    1. Denarius

      Re: Hazardous Customers

      An IBM AIX box that had served in a car park basement in Bejing as worst I have seen. After unit replaced and freighted back to Oz, I took it outside after I took a quick look under top cover. How it worked under the cm+ of black dust/grit/dirt speaks volumes of the hardiness of old kit.

      Shook out dirt, brushed it before it was safe to bring inside.

      Cleaned an early IBM keyboard in South Asia somewhere that was erratic due to peanuts and paperclips somehow jammed in it. It worked flawlessly after cleaning and vaccuuming. Those old keyboards were tough.

  24. Martin

    Coffee or even Coke - no problem !

    I used to work for a company that made coin mechanisms - the sort you used to find in Coke machines and similar.

    Those things were designed to continue working even if Coke was spilt into them - because that's what people would do deliberately to try to break them.

  25. bazza Silver badge


    Doesn't sount like the recipe for alcohol...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: C8H10N4O2

      No, it's #2 on the list, Caffeine. and above pizza.

    2. Anonymous Custard

      Re: C8H10N4O2

      It's the reciprocal recipe for the morning after alcohol...

  26. Rich 10

    The worst

    Had a (potential customer) call last Friday. "My dog peed on my laptop, do you clean that sort of thing". Uhhhhhhhhhhhh, NO!

  27. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    dipped in the chemical plating tank dont work afterwards

    We did save the HDD ... just

    Coat as that has the big rubber gloves for saving stuff that fallen in the tank .....

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Laptops

      Did somone think they deserved a gold plated laptop then? Sounds like something "high flying" salesman[1] would do.

      [1[ not being sexists here, but almost always the blokie sales people who are the biggest arseholes.

  28. PM from Hell

    Keyboard hell

    I have 2 stories, the first was a user who on the very last day of operation of a legacy system poured orange juice into the proprietary keyboard. She told us straight away but we couldn't get the damn thing working again.Not only was the keyboard proprietary to the manufacturer but different models of terminal had different,m incompatible keyboards. Thus was the last of these machines to be decommissioned and it required one of my team to climb over the junk in the basement gathering any look alike keyboard, thankfully one of them was the right type.

    the second was a field engineer who reported that his laptop had become 'contaminated' after sliding into a trench (these were high pressure mains engineers) as no one could identify what the green foam covering the machine was we had to have it destroyed as dangerous industrial waste.

  29. Marty McFly Silver badge

    Early restaurant DOS-based point of sale...

    Remember the days of motherboards being interchangeable between cases?

    Had a side gig upgrading motherboards in x386 boxes that had seen duty in a restaurant. The insides looked like gray felt glued on by fryer grease. I would disassemble the box and literally put the pieces in the break room dishwasher. Keyboards got this treatment as well.

    If they worked after cleaning, then I was the hero and saved the day. If they didn't work, well they needed replacing anyway.

    It is surprising how resilient electronics of that era were to this treatment. As long as the parts were fully dry, they usually came back alive and worked fine.

  30. Aussie Doc

    Now a has-bean...

    Clearly grounds for instant dismissal.

  31. Daedalus

    Blinding me with science

    "in order to better explain something with both arms"

    Reminds me of somebody. Can't quite put my finger on it....

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