back to article Security? Working servers? Who needs those when you can have a shiny floor?

Ah, gentle reader, once again it is Monday and all that entails. But fear not, for The Reg is here with Who, Me? and another tale of things going not quite so well as might have been hoped. Perhaps this will lift your day. This week's raconteur, who we'll Regomize as "Murph," brings us a tale tying together two of our recent …

  1. trevorde Silver badge

    Clean keyboards

    Worked at a company in the early 90s when PCs were being introduced in the workplace. The Managing Director's Personal Assistant got a bee in her bonnet about hygiene of the PC keyboards and got our regular cleaning company to 'sort it out'. The cleaning company got their best people onto it which were little old ladies who had never seen a computer in their lives. They dunked the keyboards into a bucket of warm, soapy water and proceeded to scrub them with a big brush, previously used for the floors. Amazingly, some of the keyboards even worked after being cleaned!

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Clean keyboards

      It's amazing how waterproof electronics can be. Don't put keyboards in a modern dishwasher though, the high temperature drying cycle can melt them.

      1. Little Mouse

        Re: Clean keyboards

        As can the hot tap in the kitchenette that dispenses near-boiling water for cups of tea etc.

        I saw an engineer attempt to rinse a laptop keyboard (detached) under one of these once. Unsurprisingly, the keyboard was barely recognisable afterwards. It melted like the Nazi's face in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

        1. ibmalone

          Re: Clean keyboards

          Could safely rinse it under ours, which is as often out of service as in. Funnily the kettle next to it keeps plugging along, strange that...

      2. Vincent Manis

        Re: Clean keyboards

        I am profoundly not fond of my iPhone and its horrible OS. But I'll give it credit: it survived an entire wash/rinse/spin cycle. The washing machine in question locks when started, so all I could do was to stare and weep when I inadvertently loaded it along with the laundry. When it came out, it functioned flawlessly, and was unmarred except for a tiny scratch at one edge. I very much doubt I'll buy another iPhone,but The experience has taught me to demand that my next phone will be similarly sturdy.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Clean keyboards

          I very much doubt I'll buy another iPhone,but The experience has taught me to demand that my next phone will be similarly sturdy.

          How are you planning to demand that, since no one (including Apple) will promise their phone can survive a wash cycle? If you buy a phone, run it through the wash, and it doesn't survive, or survives with problems, do you plan to return it as defective? Will you tell them what test you did to determine it to be (or cause it to be) defective?

          1. Vincent Manis

            Re: Clean keyboards

            I can't demand that a phone survive a wash cycle; if I could, my original post would have been pointless. That said, all reputable device manufacturers provide a statement about environmental factors. I randomly picked Samsung, and found https://www.samsung.com/ca/support/mobile-devices/galaxy-phone-dust-and-water-resistance-rating. There they show the Ingress Protection ratings of (some of?) the Galaxy range of phones.

            1. DS999 Silver badge

              Re: Clean keyboards

              Sure they all provide IP ratings, which are useless for your case. They only deal with immersion in still clean water. They don't cover moving water, let alone the turbulent water found in your washing machine. Nor do they cover detergents (or salt water or muddy water)

              A phone that has an IP rating that says it can survive 30 minutes in six meters of water (I think that's what IP68 is) doesn't mean it is rated to survive being hit with a spray from a hose, let alone swirling around in a high efficiency washing machine.

              Now clearly those ratings are a minimum - a phone able to handle such submersion in clean water is probably going to be OK in worse, but there are no guarantees. Especially since not all washing machines are the same - I would think surviving the spin cycle in a top load is a lot easier than in a side load, where it could potentially be banging around quite a bit while it spins up and spins down (I'm assuming once it is up to speed centrifugal force will hold it against the wall) Having your phone stay dry inside doesn't do you much good if the screen is shattered. Even if the phone is fine that sort of thing may not be too good for your washing machine which may cost even more than the phone!

            2. David Hicklin Bronze badge

              Re: Clean keyboards

              Problem crying out for a solution here: washer refuses to start if it detects the presence of a phone.

              1. Gala
                Devil

                Re: Clean keyboards

                Problem solved... a washing machine that can only be operated via an app.

                1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                  Re: Clean keyboards

                  But what if that includes a smart speaker... "Aqua, start watching machine." "Yesbbbbs, bbbosss."

              2. DS999 Silver badge

                That's actually not a hard problem to solve

                If the interior drum was designed to provide enough of a Faraday cage (you'd need a fine mesh on the window or metallic coating) a small antenna inside the drum could easily tell the difference between a phone's wifi/BT/NFC/UWB emissions as being inside the machine rather than outside. Provided you aren't washing a phone with a dead battery, but there's only so much that can be done.

                Of course adding such a feature would cost more, and who would spring for the "detect phone" option for their home when everyone would say accidentally putting my phone in the wash is something I'd never do (or those who have would say I'd never do again)

                Still that feature might make sense on commercial machines like in a laundromat or at Vincent's apartment building. Those commercial machines are already much more expensive due to their far heavier workload and may already have some fancy sensors inside to protect them from people doing stupid stuff like tossing a brick in the machine to deliberately damage it (or because they want homemade "stone washed" jeans)

                1. TRT

                  Re: That's actually not a hard problem to solve

                  Ah, the perennial problem of coins in the washing machine is soon to be a thing of the past in the brave new world of the cashless society. Cashless, I dare say, because of having to keep buying new phones.

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: Clean keyboards

          "The washing machine in question locks when started, so all I could do was to stare and weep when I inadvertently loaded it along with the laundry."

          Hitting the pause button stops everything and unlocks the lid on every washer I've ever seen with the lid-lock bug "feature".

          Failing that, unplug the fucking thing. Then remove your laundry and find a real washer.

          1. Vincent Manis

            Re: Clean keyboards

            This is in a laundry room in my apartment building. The plugs are hidden behind the machines; the washers themselves are made by Huebsch, and have many unpleasant failure modes, but no visible Pause button.

          2. Zarno

            Re: Clean keyboards

            404 Pause button not found.

            Our old Kenmore washer dryer stack station at the family getaway will lock the lid and refuse to unlock it till you manually turn the cycle dial to JUST the right position.

            It does this even if you pull the plug, so my guess is it uses a bidirectional solenoid bolt lock.

            If it's gotten into an unbalanced spin cycle, you just have to wait while it waltzes, or cycle through manually again and rearrange.

            It refuses to die, and is easy to winterize, so it has earned its place.

      3. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Don't put keyboards in a modern dishwasher though, the high temperature drying cycle can melt them.

        When I read this thread I was going to point out that I have run my old school HP keyboard through my dishwasher probably a half dozen times and it still works. Perhaps that's because I don't use the heated dry mode (for anything) I just shake it out really well, let it sit for a bit, then shake it out even better, then let it sit for a few days to insure it is completely dry. I don't use detergent, and don't have the dishwasher heating the water beyond the 55C or so my hot water heater is set at.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Clean keyboards

      Can't entirely fault the MD though. Keyboards ARE filthy, filthy things and under ideal circumstances shouldn't be shared.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Doing support over TeamViewer is much nicer these days, than having to visit a user's PC, where the keycaps are so black that you can't read the letters underneath, and sticky as well...

        One positive from Corona, at least we always have a bottle of hand disinfectant, for when we do actually have to make a personal visit...

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          Re: Clean keyboards

          Get a small wireless keyboard for personal visits.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Clean keyboards

            Why wireless? Not all laptops and the vast majority of desktops don't have BlueTooth so you still have to plug in an easily lost dongle. Might as well just use a wired USB k/b :-)

            1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

              Re: Clean keyboards

              Wireless USB keyboard, if you will. You don't walk around with dangling wires (two as there's probably a mouse, too). And certainly no Bluetooth as the pairing might involve touching filthy finger filth, what you wanted to prevent in the first place.

          2. pirxhh

            Re: Clean keyboards

            Great idea!

            We use tiny keyboards with a touchpad, about the size of the venerable Nokia communicator, for our lab machines (mostly Intel NUC and Raspberry Pi). They are wireless (dongle stored inside). I'll remember taking one for every user support task (not my official job any more but still happens).

        2. AndyMTB

          Re: Clean keyboards

          My grown-up daughter has a dual-screen desktop for "serious" work which she can't do on her everyday laptop. I've upgraded the innards a number of times, it's running linux and suits her just fine. However, she insists that she just loves the very old keyboard, which works great except that half the letters have worn off. Doesn't seem to matter to her but drives me crazy when I'm called upon to upgrade etc. I'm sure I never usually look at the keyboard but I must somehow be aware of where my fingers are. Peripheral vision? (sorry!). Anyway, now turn up armed with my own keyboard.

        3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Clean keyboards

          where the keycaps are so black that you can't read the letters underneath, and sticky as well

          I started my career in support in the days when smoking in the office was still legal (albeit heavily discouraged). The people who used to smoke at their desks had a rota against their names - if you visited fag-ash Lil last week then it's my turn when she next calls for assistance.

          We used to keep dust masks and rubber gloves for opening PCs where the user smoked. One particular one I remember - the user (a really nice Dutch bloke who smoked like a chimney) called us apologetically to say that his computer had 'made a funny noise' and now didn't work. It was my turn on hazard duty so I went along. Opening up the PS/2 revealed a motherboard with several inches of brownish/grey gunk [1] over it, the CPU fan was completely seized (as was the power supply fan) and the motherboard had literally cooked itself under the cloak of gunge. Even the token-ring card mount was covered in sludge - and he did report that, some days, the network was a 'bit iffy'.

          Fortunately, the hard drive was still viable so, after a good clean, got put into a new chassis and he was able to work again.

          Fairly soon after that, the rules changed and smokers had to go outside to smoke and smoke detectors got fitted in all the toilets to stop people nipping in there to inhale their toxins.

          [1] We assume it was a mixture of fag ash, dust and tar. Not good for electronics apparently.

      2. Evil Auditor Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Eww, still remember the filthy keyboard of a manager in one of my former lives. Each key had a dark, brownish boarder with a brighter circular area in the middle. And the darkness/thickness of the boarder indicated which keys were used most. The same filth patina was present on everything on his desk, being it pens, stapler, calculator, desk pad, mouse obviously. I didn't want to touch any of that, including the manager, with a pole. It if it was unavoidable, treatment of hands with alcohol was the minimum.

        No gloves icon? At least a filthy key.

        1. G.Y.

          Re: Clean keyboards

          Did he smoke?

          1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

            Re: Clean keyboards

            No, he didn't. Which makes it even worse.

        2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

          Re: Clean keyboards

          Something similar.. Where I used to work, we use to lend students "multimedia" equipment. Basically, Cameras, Microphones etc.

          One day, we'd loaned a student our best microphone. A Sennheiser boom mike that could either be powered by a AA battery or an XLR plug.. This was a decent mike, and heavily in demand. When the student didn't return it on time, he was disciplined (not by me), and did eventually return it.

          I never found out what happened to it, but the microphone, and the flight case it came in, were both slimy. When I questioned the student about this, he claimed he had not used the microphone. Apparently when he took it home, he dumped the entire case into the linen bin and left it.

          1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

            Re: Clean keyboards

            That, Stuart Castle, raised more questions that you answered. Why in the linen bin? How turns laundry slimy? Or what kind of "laundry" did they have? And did the insurance pay the claim?

            1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

              Re: Clean keyboards

              I think the implication is that the laundry went straight into the household washing machine, and the microphone and case with it. The soapy water would penetrate the case, but the rinsing would not be as effective as you'd want. It would be not much better if it was, but I think what we've got is soapy dirty laundry water inside the microphone case. The outside should be lovely and clean, though.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Obligatory XKCD.

        That should be a mandatory, educational part of a support call, even before asking "have you switched it off and on again"?

        :)

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Especially one that belonged to a hospital consultant! I decided to get a couple of biros and used them to poke at the keys instead of typing on it.

      5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Clean keyboards

        "Keyboards ARE filthy, filthy things and under ideal circumstances shouldn't be shared."

        Hot desking has been a thing for some time now, and made a lot worse by partial WFH and smaller open plan offices, making the issue even worse.

        The one place I go where I use the hot desking system, for an entirely different reason, I use the laptop k/b, not the one plugged into the display/hub thing.

        My reason, is that I use a laptop so much these days, the cheap nasty keyboards on the desk feel uncomfortable. I do have a nice proper keyboard at home with a perfect, for me, angle and a perfectly concave shape to the key caps just right for my fat fingers! I do, however, use the attached mouse at the hot desk, and they do always look clean to me although I've not checked closely. There's no obvious build up of dirt/sweat on the buttons or sides or other regular contact spots. Maybe the cleaners wipe them down at night?

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Clean keyboards

        I work in a hospital lab, and we have three kind of keyboards: almost normal looking but with the keys being "cartoon 3D" printed ones that can be wiped down (with 70% alcohol)[1], one flexible rubber thing that is horrible but also wipeable. And regular ones that often gets plastic "condoms" (think cheap plastic hotel shower caps, but keyboard shaped). We take hygiene fairly seriously here since we have lots of body fluids (normally in sealed tubes, but...)

        I have gently wiped the keys down on regular keyboards with an alcohol dampened paper towel.

        Hmm, next time they run "hand hygiene day" I should so wipe half of a keyboard and then test both halves.

        [1] https://www.advancedinput.com/medigenic-2/products/washable-keyboards-infection-control/essential

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Clean keyboards

          Yes, a client has a host of keyboards similar to those in their cleanrooms. You have no idea what hides under the keys of a standard keyboard, and no way to control it. Keeping it sealed is mandatory for cleanroom integrity. They're just not much fun to type on when you're already wearing two layers of gloves..

      7. pirxhh
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Yes indeed.

        My personal keyboard is an original IBM MF-II. The (outer) keycaps are easy to detach; they regularly go into a sock and then in the (30°C wash).

        At work, we have a shared desk concept; we all got personal bluetooth keyboards and mice so it's only my own dirt I'm touching.

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Clean keyboards

      A friend loved his Siemens keyboard from the late 80s. He treasured it for years, but he was a chain smoker... So it went into the dishwasher every 6 months for a clean. He had to finally replace it in the early 2000s.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Ugh, heavy smokers. The tar gets everywhere :(

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Clean keyboards

          I was staying at his place once, while in the process of moving. His office was orange.

          He went away for the weekend. My girlfriend and I cleaned up the place. Breff on the orange door, started off pink at the top, as it dripped down the door, it turned yellow, then orange, then black...

          1. DJV Silver badge

            Re: Clean keyboards

            What you SHOULD have done was to clean HALF of it, with a nice sharp border between the clean and filthy sections. I did that once with a monitor when someone complained that their monitor screen was fuzzy and dark.

            1. big_D Silver badge

              Re: Clean keyboards

              Oh, I reserved that for his laser printer. That had a nice clean stripe down the middle of it!

              1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

                Re: Clean keyboards

                ...and it printed faster afterwards, didn't it?

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Clean keyboards

                Look at the plus side: single sheet printouts would never fall on the floor as they would stick to the out tray..

                It shows just how addictive smoking is if people after seeing this buildup still don't care that the same is building up inside them :(.

      2. Killing Time

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Reed switches used on the old premium XT/AT keyboards, bomb proof.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Clean keyboards

          Funny you should say that, when a large car bomb blew in the windows of our office the keyboards were the main casualties. None worked afterwards, although all the screens were fine.

      3. Albertosaurus

        Cleanable keyboards

        I'm writing this on an IBM Model M keyboard with PS/2 to USB adapter. It weighs about 2 kg so you wouldn't want to do desk visits with it and the keyclick noise is such that I have to mute myself during Zoom calls. But the kecaps are individually removable for cleaning in soapy water once a year (if I can find them around the room after pinging them off) and the whole clamshell comes apart with a mere four large bolts, unlike the modern ones with their tens of tiny Phillips screws. The key travel is perfect and it doesn't give me aching finger joints or RSI. The going rate on Ebay is currently £150 - slightly less than their price new in 1998, if I remember correctly.

        1. Zarno
          Thumb Up

          Re: Cleanable keyboards

          +1 for Model M!

          Sounds like an ammo dump cooking off while typing, glorious tactile feel, and swanky curves.

          I run a Unicomp M13 USB reproduction for work, and I have a few original M's at the house.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Clean keyboards

      I recall a story, doing the rounds >20 years ago, about a garden centre which had a similar way to clean out the manky keyboards. They had a spare and the owners wife would periodically swap one out for the (clean) spare and take it home and into the shower with her. After a good rinse it went into the airing cupboard for a few days before becoming the new spare.

      That story may have been apocryphal, but I can vouch for the fact that a good rinse and a few days in an airing cupboard used to work (mainly after someone had spilled coffee or other drink over their keyboard - if they took a lot of sugar, or it was a soft drink like Coke, the rinsing needed to be particularly thorough); crisp crumbs were the main keyboard bugbear, though, as you usually had to take the case apart to clean those out. I had a few old keyboards with worn or otherwise unreliable keys that were loaned to the culprit whilst theirs was being cleaned - went a little way to teaching them to be a bit more careful...

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Clean keyboards

        If they aren't plugged in at the time, and are given time to dry, they are pretty resilient. It is the drying time that is critical (as is not using abrasive or corrosive detergents).

      2. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge
        Stop

        Re: Clean keyboards

        After a couple of years of eating sandwiches at your desk, some of the keys make a 'crunch' sound when you press them. Then it's time to clean it out like your toaster!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Clean keyboards

        the owners wife would periodically swap one out for the (clean) spare and take it home and into the shower with her

        Weren't those documentaries on Pornhub?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Back when I were a newish PFY one of our users spilled a can of Mountain Dew on their keyboard. They quickly dumped out most of the liquid, but a few keys started to stick down.

        Rather than ask IT for help, they decided that electrical contact cleaner should do the trick. The contact cleaner probably did a great job of dissolving the Dew. Unfortunately it reacted with the plastic. The entire left side of the keyboard looked like a Salvador Dali painting.

        1. Is It Me

          Re: Clean keyboards

          I was using acetone to clean some superglue off some magnets at my desk, a few drops splashed on the hand rest of my keyboard and it now has some interesting shaped melted spots.

          Sanding them down a little has helped disguise them, but some of them still look like cigarette burns (I don't smoke)

    5. Little Mouse

      Re: Clean keyboards

      Back in the '90s we employed a cleaning company who sent a similarly enthusiastic team of pensioners to do a one-off clean of all the desktop IT kit at our head office, during office hours.

      They used those mini vacuum cleaners to clean the keyboards, but they might as well have just rubbed the keyboards on their polyester jumpers for all the good it did.

      The resulting pile of fried keyboards was bad enough, but it was the relentless jaunty whistling that ensured they never got invited back.

    6. Marty McFly Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Clean keyboards

      Did that, done that. PC-based point-of-sale systems from restaurants. I had the side-gig of doing refurbs on 386 & 486 systems that had been installed in the early 90's. Grease & dirt covered shambles. They were either going to come back alive or they were going in the bin. With nothing to lose, I regularly ran the stripped components through the break-room dishwasher.

      Surprisingly most parts reverted to working order when properly dried out.

    7. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Clean keyboards

      you only need to use keyboards meant for industrial environments, they are supposed to be washable using high pressure systems (water or air).

      And they are not very expensive to boost.

    8. Lazlo Woodbine

      Re: Clean keyboards

      We lost so many keyboards during Covid as staff liberally dosed them with hand sanitiser..

    9. Sequin

      Re: Clean keyboards

      I spilt a can of coke on my keyboardsotook it into the toilets and rinsedit under the sink. I then held it under the hand drier to dry it out,and of course it melted!

      1. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Then you used it to type that story?

    10. Sequin

      Re: Clean keyboards

      I worked for a large UK government department, and the management decided to get a company in to sanitise phones, keyboards and monitors. The next evening I got an emergency call from the mainfame room - one of their systems was malfunctioning and needed fixing NOW - "all of the menus have disappeared"! I grabbed my toolkit, diagmostic software etc and jumped in a taxi to get there. I finaly got admitted to the secure room, walked over to the (green screen) monitor, looked at it for 10 seconds, turned the brightness up, then walked out and got another taxi back. While cleaning the monitor the sanitiser had wiped across the rotary brightness control.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Clean keyboards

        Had that on a good few occasions with user's monitors where they'd moved the position on their desk then thought they'd broken them, or a cleaner had inadvertently changed the brightness down when cleaning the desk under the monitor.

    11. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Clean keyboards

      I worked for a small (no longer extant) consultancy where the Chairman smoked. Well, after an office re-organisation I 'inherited' his old PC with filthy keyboard. So I got out the screen cleaner foam and gave it a deep clean. A few weeks later I was moved to another desk, and lo! and behold! the 'new' desk had a similarly filthy keyboard. I got the hint and cleaned all the keyboards ( about 7 ) one day. End of office moves (and not a single word of thanks, I may add.)

    12. Luiz Abdala
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Clean keyboards

      Extra sugary tea had no chance against the handyman working with me at a Language Course center back in the day. He washed all of it: removed all the keycaps, gave them a scrub, and applied a hair dryer, at a safe, tolerable to the touch temperature.

      As for the parts where he didn't dare to use the dryer, he literally hang them to dry, then kept all the caps in a plastic shopping bag tied to the cord, giving me the honor to put it back together 24 hours later.

      Flawless operation ensued.

      Obvious icon.

  2. Korev Silver badge
    Coat

    It's a story in which not one thing but several had to go wrong – but it has a happy ending. You see, that "B" rack of UPSes kept everything going. In spite of the alarms and alerts and whooping sirens (OK, there weren't whooping sirens) the system stayed up and worked as it should.

    Looks like the cleaner showed that the IT setup was floorless

    1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
      Coat

      The flaw in the plan was they forgot to take into account of the floor in their plans.

      I'll get me coat.

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Coat

        We'll never tile of making these jokes

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Coat

          Yeah, collect enough and we'll have a clean sweep :-)

          1. Norman Nescio

            Well, I'm just an old buffer, and I'm late to the party, so I'd better wax lyrical to bring a shine to the proceedings.

  3. Korev Silver badge
    Coat

    This week's raconteur, who we'll Regomize as "Murph," brings us a tale tying together two of our recent themes: security tech that doesn't behave as it should, and power points being used in ways they were not meant to be.

    I think today's raconteur should have been "called" Jim for obvious reasons...

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Go

      No, I think Murph works well, doesn't he have at least one Law named after him? I know one is never mess with Mrs. Murphy!

  4. Caver_Dave Silver badge

    Multiple things lead to the conclusion

    In my very first full time job, the offices were repurposed chicken sheds (don't ask me how they ever got the smell out - it was done before they were sold to my boss.)

    We were having a problem with the water drain in the tarmac between the U shape of single storey wooden buildings.

    Being very fit, and having access to a pick axe and shovel, the owner (my direct boss) asked me to have a quick look at the pipes.

    I did the usual due diligence with him and got the site plans out. The mains feed was along the North side of the building on the North side of the tarmac. I could see that the drain was at least 30cm to water level and so the drain was presumably at this depth (otherwise the trap would not work).

    And so I swung the pick axe just once and saw sparks!

    Very carefully I investigated, with the owner standing a few feet out of the way.

    It turned out that:

    1) the building on the South side of the U shape had a different mains feed (that joined the other feed before the meter).

    2) that mains feed had been placed in the water drainage pipe's trench above the pipe.

    3) the building on the South side had been built later and the original North side drawings only partially updated.

    4) the delivery lorries we had in perhaps once a year, followed the same route as the agricultural vehicles that originally serviced the chicken sheds - no other vehicle was allowed down there. It turns out this was the only part of the tarmac with any form of hardcore underneath. The pick axe had gone into tarmac that was 2cm deep over hard packed soil over the trench.

    So multiple things that shouldn't have happened did and resulted in a lot of cost for:

    rewiring (to standard)

    replacing the old clay drainage pipe that was partially collapsed (under the old tractor route), full of soil and chicken shed litter

    a new layer of tarmac over the whole area to a reasonable depth

    newly corrected plans

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Multiple things lead to the conclusion

      I worked in a business center that was a converted slaughter house... They only partially managed to get rid of the smell, in some offices, the sealing on the floor must have cracked underneath the linoleum and the smell wafted into the offices...

    2. Red Or Zed

      Re: Multiple things lead to the conclusion

      This sounds very suspicious - all the right things being done in the end?

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Multiple things lead to the conclusion

      "In my very first full time job, the offices were repurposed chicken sheds (don't ask me how they ever got the smell out - it was done before they were sold to my boss.)"

      My late cousin's garden shed came from a chicken farm. It still bears a residue, not of the chickens, but of shrapnel. A factory about a mile away was the presumed target for an air raid - reputedly at one time it was the only one still standing machining certain parts for Spitfires. The factory was missed but the chicken farm got a direct hit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Multiple things lead to the conclusion

        My brother and his wife looked at a house that had cracks in the wall.

        The estate agent said that it was nothing to worry about, it was caused by bomb damage during the war!

        1. David Hicklin Bronze badge

          Re: Multiple things lead to the conclusion

          > caused by bomb damage during the war!

          We have that from when a munitions store went up up in WW1 (yeah the house is that old!) Our side is petty good but looking across the open attic you can see huge cracks at the far end on the neighbours side.

          Its not fallen down ...yet

      2. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

        Re: Multiple things lead to the conclusion

        They were shelled, you mean?

        (Credits: S. Milligan)

      3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Multiple things lead to the conclusion

        One lot of chaps with wings mistaken for another, I suppose.

    4. Someone Else Silver badge

      Re: Multiple things lead to the conclusion

      newly corrected plans

      The most important (and most likely to be "overlooked") step!

  5. jake Silver badge

    All that glitters ...

    When I was at SAIL, we had problems with the VAX disk drives going walkabout during overnight, disk intensive runs. Sometimes they'd walk far enough to pull their own power and/or data cables. I had one block the only door in once, in the throws of committing suicide ... I had to climb over the hanging ceiling to get in and restore order.

    I had lunch with a colleague at SLAC and the subject came up. He allowed as to how they had had a similar problem, but the fix was simple: First, ban floor wax from the glass room (that wasn't glass). Pull the floor tiles a few at a time and take them outside. Scuff the Formica with 120 grit on an orbital sander. Dust off the tiles with a tack-cloth. Reinstall. No more walkies.

    The precedent of "telling the cleaning staff how to do their their job" (as it was claimed) made it easier when we finally kicked them (almost) completely out of the machine room about three months later ... but that's a story for another day.

    1. Herring` Silver badge

      Re: All that glitters ...

      This can happen when the heavy data ends up on one side of the disk.

      1. WhoMeGuvNah
        Coat

        Re: All that glitters ...

        Here's me thinking that the heavy data got balanced out over time because of the centrifugal force. OK, it's all on the outermost track but it should be evenly spread.

        1. DJV Silver badge

          Re: All that glitters ...

          Yeah, but then you have to flip the platters over every once in a while as the outer edge starts to droop.

    2. Norman Nescio

      Re: All that glitters ...

      Pull the floor tiles a few at a time

      Ah yes. Sage advice.

      At one of the places that employed me, they had a (quite serious) workplace accident.

      A new cable needed to be laid in a machine room with a raised floor. So the person doing the work removed a line of floortiles two or three metres long along the front of a line of racks.

      The racks tilted over and collapsed on the person, causing life-changing injuries. I saw the pictures of the aftermath, without the blood.

      People were most assiduous in removing only two adjacent tiles at a time after that.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: All that glitters ...

        It's very easy to misunderstand why you're not allowed to pull more than (usually) 2 adjacent tiles. Most would assume it's some H&S thing about the size of the hole. Unless you're an engineer and understand the mechanics of how the floor works (a grid of separate pillars supporting floor tiles, otherwise unconnected. Thus the floor tiles are what provides horizontal rigidity to the floor) it's probably hard for most people to wrap their head around it.

    3. Bitsminer Silver badge

      Re: All that glitters ...

      RP05. When a 600 pound gorilla goes walkabout, who is to argue?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Power Points

    When I saw this, I thought it was a PowerPoint that was somehow able to restart a server remotely (don't ask where I saw it)

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Power Points

      I just built one of those.

      Ethernet controlled relays and a mini 5V supply (from AliExpress) and a 2-gang nonmetallic workbox. A manual shutoff switch and a dual outlet. Works nicely to shut off and reset low current devices when they go off into the weeds.

      It's safe, but I've only rated it for 5A max (half the rating of the relays)

    2. NXM Silver badge

      Re: Power Points

      That's easy - just press shift-F5

  7. Gene Cash Silver badge

    "there weren't whooping sirens"

    Perhaps there should have been... now janitorial staff aren't usually hired for their ability to reach conclusions, but it might have given him a slight blurred reason why his polisher died and deterred him from plugging it in again.

    Nah, who am I kidding.

    Heck, even my 3D printer gives an ear-piercing shriek when it detects "thermal anomalies" such as a runaway heatblock or failed thermistor/fan, then it shuts everything off in an attempt to not burn the house down. Obviously it's not a Chinese model.

    1. FeepingCreature

      Re: "there weren't whooping sirens"

      Re 3D printers, since approx every cheap printer uses Marlin, the real sad thing is that the firmware for those fire hazards supports thermal runaway protection perfectly fine.

      It's just turned off.

      (Which at least means you can make your printer halfway safe by just rebuilding the firmware, which you should be doing anyways.)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "there weren't whooping sirens"

      Alternatively see story in news today. ... cleaner found a beeping sound from a fridge (warning of possible temperature issues) annoying so they turned it off .... and, according to the company, who are now suing the cleaning contractors, caused the loss of samples collected over a period of 25 years of research.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "there weren't whooping sirens"

        Could be worse - could have been the fridge where the chemistry folks kept the diazomethane. To quote Derek Lowe,

        "That diazo group is looking for an excuse to revert back to nitrogen gas, which process comes with an inevitable no-substitutions side order of kaboom. The chemist’s job is to not give it that excuse."

        (One excuse is for it to get warm...)

        https://www.science.org/content/blog-post/not-do-diazomethane

        Check out the link for a hair-raising story of how NOT to handle the stuff.

      2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: "there weren't whooping sirens"

        When I read that story, my first thought was that fridges are never 100% reliable, why didn't they have backup samples in another lab?

  8. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward Bronze badge

    Anybody ever had a flooded server room?

    And even the raised floor didn't help?

    1. Down not across

      Unfortunately the water in the crawlspace under the raised floor doesn't play well with the power conduits and other wiring.

      Don't ask how I know.

      Just hope its water and not sewage.

    2. Norman Nescio

      I have not, but I read an interesting case (which I can't find on the Risks Digest) of a machine room on the umpteenth floor of a tower block being flooded.

      Water mains pressure is insufficient to feed the higher floors of tall tower blocks. As a result, they have holding tanks, often at several different heights with pumps to move water up to the highest level needed.

      The company affected had a computer/machine room fairly high up, and flooding was not regarded as being a potential problem, until the plumbing leaked catastrophically and flooded the computer/machine room on the umpteenth floor from above. Of course, the holding tank will have a float switch, so the pumps will merrily keep pumping water up, which then cascades down. Raising the floor multiple stories above street level didn't help.

      Speaking of pumps, Peer 1 Hosting of Manhattan had to resort to employees moving fuel up 17 flights of stairs to keep their data-centre running after Hurricane Sandy. The pumps to move fuel from the basement tank were submerged in flood water.

    3. jake Silver badge

      Not exactly flooded, but ...

      In 1980ish we griped about mosquitos on the manufacturing floor at Spectra Physics in Mountain View, CA. Went on for a couple weeks. Got to the point where most of us had a couple of the critters tied to the desk with a human-hair leash, taped to the desk. Was pretty funny ... all you had to do was breathe in their general direction and they'd tiredly go airborn & attempt to do what mosquitos do[0].

      Manglement finally payed attention when a big-wig from Caterpillar came in to look at the possibility of putting laser-level gear into production Cat kit.

      My lead assembler and myself were assigned to track down the source of the problem. Turned out to be a leaking water pipe in the under floor cable-track, pooling in a dip in the concrete. Pipe repaired, water removed with a ShopVac[tm], no more problem.

      [0] I'm not normally prone to torment critters who are just doing what they do.

    4. AVR

      We had a server room where a downpour leaked through the ceiling once. The flooring wasn't relevant.

  9. WolfFan

    Raconteur

    Hmm. He deals with racks. Hmm. Perhaps el Reg hasn’t really gone Full Yankee, and there are a few wild Englishmen roaming around.

  10. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    The logical solution would be have specially marked sockets for the cleaning staff to use, and clearly signpost them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      OK, and what language would you use to signpost them?

    2. Caver_Dave Silver badge

      At a previous employer all of the equipment we designed could only sensibly assembled one way round e,g. connectors were different sizes and keyed, and if possible the male and female had a coloured collar to make it even more obvious.

      Therefore, when we had a new building built, sockets were specifically placed in all passageways with a different type of connector (like a UK plug, but the pins were T shaped) and the cleaners equipment were only fitted with this special plug. Part of the H&S monthly inspection was to check that all cleaners equipment had the special plugs.

      The server and test labs were only every cleaned by our staff. The cleaners passes did not let them in.

      1. Norman Nescio

        Top cunning plan, only foiled by the fact that the cleaner only realises their equipment won't plug into the server socket once they've removed the server plug to check. It's absolutely standard that people do an extremely cursory search for an unoccupied socket, shrug, and pull out a plug from an occupied socket. If you are lucky, they put it back in afterwards. If you are lucky. I've also seen cleaners removing plugs from sockets by pulling hard on the lead/cord - which shouldn't work for UK plugs, but does*. It saves them traipsing back over the bit they've just cleaned to remove the plug from the socket, so very efficient time-and-motion-wise.

        The only system that is pretty immune to that is central vacuum systems, where the hose connects to a faceplate in the wall. Doesn't work for floor-polishers 'though. The other possibility is to hard-wire everything that shouldn't be unplugged.

        *I suspect this lead to the interesting experience of finding a cleaner using some equipment with no plug, simply bare stripped wires. Said cleaner would unplug a piece of equipment, place the bare wires into the live and neutral of the socket, and replace the plug. It meant the cleaner could get their job done, which was what was important to the cleaner, who had an entirely different set of incentives to the day-workers. Ingenious, but not entirely within regulations.

        1. Norman Nescio

          It turns out that even hard-wiring and writing a notice don't work:

          BBC: Major research lost after cleaner turns off fridge, lawsuit says

          As I said, cleaners have different incentives to day-workers, and (lack of) training is often given as a cause. That's a cop out.

          As accident investigators will tell you, relying on human operated procedures means that things will go wrong, Railway signalling systems were automated to remove fallible humans from the loop as much as possible; so if you want a process to work more reliably than people, you need to remove people from the process. Some do this by banning access to cleaners and letting staff qualified to use the technical area (and understand the working environment) also do the cleaning of their working environment, others by using hard-wiring, enclosures, and safety- and security- interlocks to prevent mishaps from occurring.

          I would ask why the cleaner had access to the circuit breaker, and did Prof. Lakshmi formally and directly inform the cleaning company that cleaning was not required? I don't count an informal notice on a fridge - there is no guarantee that a cleaner is literate.

          1. Norman Nescio

            ...there is no guarantee that a cleaner is literate.

            That probably came across as dismissive. It wasn't meant to. I should have said "literate in the language of the day-workers."

            Many years ago, I had to spend some time with colleagues in Washington D.C. The office cleaners were very good, and would remove only rubbish physically in the waste-bins - anything else was left where they found it. So your desk would be cleaned and the loose papers replaced where they were.

            The problem arose regarding how to dispose of waste that didn't fit into the waste-bins. My colleagues indicated that this was easy - you just needed to write on it that it was trash, and it would be taken away. So I did, being careful not to label it 'rubbish', but 'trash', congratulating myself on my transatlantic credentials.

            The next day, the boxes I wanted removed were still there.

            My colleagues laughed. What I should have written was basura.

            That was not the only time I found that English was not universally accepted in D.C., which came as a surprise to me.

            The point being, writing a sign in a language not readable by the cleaners might not give you the results you want.

          2. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Literate or not; cleaners often see themselves as separated from the staff who do the day jobs ( everything is so much better in the workplace when staff don't see/treat them as such imho). And outsourcing, of course makes that worse.

            As such there's a kind of assumption that they can carry that the wider workplace environment is irrelevant to them. So a notice isn't registered as being there for them to read, it's for the regular staff. Sometimes writing "Cleaner" or their names ( problematic if they aren't always the same person) on the top of a note helps.

            Best of all is to get to know them.

  11. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
    Pirate

    "Have you ever given a system a necessary if unintentional stress test?"

    Yes, my wife does it to me on a regular basis.

  12. vincent himpe

    Long ago, in a design center far far away .. (chip design that is. running on Calma and ComputerVision systems driven by a Data General Nova . this is late 80's)

    One day we found that the computer running the workstations had rebooted. Shruggingly written off as a one-time event. A week later the same happened. And the week thereafter and the week thereafter ...

    Every thursday morning we found the machine had restarted. Strange. Service was called in and they couldn't find anything wrong. It couldn't be a scheduled job : the thing didn't have a clock or a way to schedule things. Files were saved with a version number that incremented upon every save. No time/date stamp.

    Next thursday the sysop stayed late to monitor the machine from his desk in the aquarium. This was the era where the computer rooms were all floor to ceiling glass walls so you could proudly display the hardware to visitors. We users called it the aquarium. The sysop always said the fish were on the outside.

    Somewhere late the cleaning crew for the office got in and sure enough: one of the cleaners entered the "aquarium" and started dusting. The nova machine had a nice ledge with a bunch of toggle buttons. out comes the dusting brush .... and mystery solved. It turned out there was a problem with the machine. One of the toggles was a halt/reset and it was a bit "sensitive". They replaced that front panel , and then put a piece of perspex over it, and told the cleaners to only collect the printouts but not dust anything in there.

    Note : if i remeber correctly this things was a Nova 3

  13. martinusher Silver badge

    More to this than meets the eye

    Our cleaner colleague shouldn't have been using a lot of water to do the job but he should have been using special anti-static polish. In the facility I used to work in the production floor -- cordoned off from mere mortals unless they were wearing anti-static smocks and shoe harnesses -- was regularly treated to this polish. It not only made the place loop spiffy but it ensured all the other anti-static precautions worked.

    Now, about those UPSes. The building services staff usually have their own sets of generic outlets, the special quiet / uninterruptible supplies being clearly marked as such. This isn't just data centers -- anywhere that's got specialized power (hospitals, for example) will have duplicate supplies, they're often color coded so you can tell which ones to use.

    (I should give a shout out to the really old movie "Hot Millions" in that it wasn't just the first movie featuring heist by computer but a heist facilitated by" facilities maintenance" (i.e. the cleaning lady). )

    1. Grey_Kiwi

      Re: More to this than meets the eye

      "Hot Millions" (1968) may well have got its ideas from "Ladies Who Do" (1963)

      [quote]The "Ladies Who Do" are office cleaners. One of them discovers some hot stock tips and they make a fortune. They then make good use of it to save their old neighbourhoods from the wicked developer.[/quote]

      https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057241/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0_tt_5_nm_3_q_ladies%2520who%2520do

    2. LessWileyCoyote

      Re: More to this than meets the eye

      "Hot Millions" was full of social engineering tricks, all the way through.

  14. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Pint

    Success of backup system!

    Sounds like the initial security failure of giving someone unauthorised access to the server room was mitigated by the automated alert system and that, for once, management had not decided to 'save money' on UPS backups by not having them.

    I do hope the IT staff responsible for this success got a thanks and a pint ---->

  15. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Will you just stop beeping!

    Not such a happy ending for this one: https://uk.yahoo.com/news/cleaner-destroys-25-years-research-160253664.html

    "A cleaner has been accused of wiping out 25 years of research after turning off a laboratory fridge to stop an “annoying” beeping sound.

    Joseph Herrington’s employer, Daigle Cleaning Systems, is being sued for $1 million (£786,535) by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), which accuses him of destroying potentially “groundbreaking” research by shutting off the appliance.

    ...

    A sign was placed on the freezer door that read: “This freezer is beeping as it is under repair. Please do not move or unplug it. No cleaning required in this area. You can press the alarm/test mute button for 5-10 seconds if you would like to mute the sound.”

    On Sept 17, Mr Herrington was reportedly cleaning the laboratory when he turned off the circuit breaker that provided electricity to the freezer."

    1. Norman Nescio

      Re: Will you just stop beeping!

      Just to be clear, there is more than one side to this story.

      If you go to the link given in the BBC report to the Times Union report, it says:

      RPI’s public safety staff interviewed the cleaner who said he heard the “annoying alarms” throughout the evening and went to the open electrical box. The report filed by the RPI public safety staff said the cleaner thought he was turning on the electrical breakers when he had actually turned them off.

      The investigation determined that the cleaner committed an error in reading the electrical box. “At the end of the interview, he still did not appear to believe he had done anything wrong but was just trying to help,” according to the report.

      My view would be that it was negligent for the cleaner to have access to the breaker in the open 'electrical box', and an informal notice on a fridge is not how you communicate with the cleaning contractor, as you don't know if the cleaners are able to read English. A notice is not 'two-way' communication, and gives no immediate means of determining if it has been both read and understood - it does not demonstrate a 'meeting of minds'. You need some form of acknowledgement process, or a pre-existing agreement that such notices will be read and acted upon.

      I will be surprised if the cleaning company is found to be fully culpable.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Will you just stop beeping!

        A cleaner's job is to clean, not to tamper with equipment they aren't certified to touch, even if they think they're fixing a problem. If this cleaner thought there was a problem with the breakers, or an incorrectly open cabinet, their responsibility was to flag it via their own hierarchy, and/or to tell any employees who were around at the time. By touching it at all they were violating numerous H&S rules.

  16. uccsoundman

    Everything in order

    My great uncle told a story. He was working for the FAA in the 1950's, generally doing stuff with radar. The transmitter house featured long lines of high power tubes with wire caps on top for the high voltage. Well one day some big-wig demanded an inspection tour of the transmitter house, and insisted it be live and the cages open so he could see all the pretty tubes (a BIG violation; it should be power (or at least HV) off and cages closed). But big-wig had the power to demand, so off they went. As he's walking down the line of tubes. one of the caps was crooked. So he reached out to straighten it. Woke up 2 weeks later in the hospital.

  17. Auror

    Who the hell leave an electrical box open to anyone but service staff or technicians?! It sounds like they were just waiting for a disaster to happen with that kind of half-assed security. Every place I've worked either had a physical door with a lock between you and the circuit breaker or had a physical (not fob) lock on it with only a handful of key staff who know what the switches do having access. Sounds like an accident waiting to happen, and given what I know of, a lot of academics totally in line as they hate anything that "slows down" their research like proper security.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like