back to article Enterprising techie took the bumpy road to replacing vintage hardware

Heavens to Betsy, dear reader, are you back again? It feels like only a week since we last met in the corner of The Register we call Who, Me? to share the schadenfreude of a fellow Regizen's misfortune. Let’s get on with it again, shall we? This week meet a fellow reader we'll Regomize as "Loudon" who, back in the early 1990s …

  1. Admiral Grace Hopper

    We've all made that call.

    "It's not working, I need a new one".

    "Is it definitely broken? It might still be repairable"

    "I'll just check"

    * pushing/sliding/falling/hard landing/breaking noises *

    "No, it's definitely broken beyond repair".

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: We've all made that call.

      It's the terminal form of percussive maintenance/a.k.a. put old kit out of our misery

      1. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

        Re: We've all made that call.

        I used to carry in my toolkit a white headed rubber mallet for HDs that weren't quite failed _yet_...

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          He says he's not dead!

          I seem to remember John Cleese doing a similar move in "The Quest for the Holy Grail"

    2. ColinPa

      Someone wanted a new laptop

      Someone wanted a new laptop before its scheduled renewal date. He decided to accidentally drop it in the hope that he would get a new replacement.

      The IT team were wise to this, and so no such luck - he got an older, reconditioned one!

      We enjoyed the schadenfreud.

      1. Flightmode

        Two sides of a coin (aka Someone wanted a new printer)

        A friend of mine many years ago told me a story of when he was called to replace a toner cartridge on an older-generation printer at a manager's office. The manager, who was generally well liked and somehow had never made any enemies in the helpdesk, asked if he couldn't get a new printer, as the one he currently had was very slow and noisy. My friend said that sorry, but he could only replace a printer that was actually broken. The manager asked if he couldn't make an exception, and my friend again said sorry, he could only replace broken printers. The manager now more or less pleaded, but my friend looked him sternly the eye and said sorry, he could only replace printers. that. were. actually. broken. As he said it, he nudged the printer about a foot to the left so that two of the rubber bumpers sat outside the desk surface. The manager brightened up and said that absolutely, good on you for not wasting company money.

        When he came back from lunch about 45 minutes later, one of his helpdesk buddies was just discarding the packing materials from a new printer, as one upstairs had mysteriously crashed to the floor about ten minutes ago. The caller made a special note to say that they should keep the toner cartridge from the old one as it had recently been replaced.

        1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Re: Two sides of a coin (aka Someone wanted a new printer)

          What he killed what his Laserjet 4050. What he got was a Laserjet from 2015. How long was he happy?

          1. Piro Silver badge

            Re: Two sides of a coin (aka Someone wanted a new printer)

            That generation of laserjet was so good, and so easy to maintain. Designed to be maintained, no less.

            I know people rave about the laserjet 4, but that's nostalgia speaking, the 4000 series was absolutely miles ahead, and would still be a decent printer today. The 4 is just too slow.

            1. tin 2

              Re: Two sides of a coin (aka Someone wanted a new printer)

              Yep! When I broke the laserjet 4050 here, I immediately replaced it - with an identical one from Ebay.

              Also I learned my lesson, don't try and clean them :)

        2. Daniel Gould

          Re: Two sides of a coin (aka Someone wanted a new printer)

          90s, investment bank in Liverpool Street, we were the IT support provider. We had a number of HP Laserjet 4Si printers, huge beasts. One would cause us visit after visit for paper jams, print issues, etc. After replacing so many parts on the thing and it still failing, it 'accidentally' fell while being moved during one of the weekly building refurbishment moves. It fell 'accidentally' several times until the chassis was so bent the case wouldn't align enough for it to close, and had to be replaced.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Two sides of a coin (aka Someone wanted a new printer)

            It fell 'accidentally' several times until the chassis was so bent the case wouldn't align enough for it to close, and had to be replaced.

            I had that happen to a Cisco Catalyst switch that managlement insisted that we move to a new-build office (despite the fact that it was *really* obsolete). I've never seen a Catalyst with a 120 degree angle where there should be a 90 degree angle..

            The power supply was OK - the rest of it was thoroughly US. So we ended up getting a newer (ie less obsolete) switch out of storage.

      2. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

        Re: Someone wanted a new laptop

        We had a salesdroid who would "accidentally" break his iPhone just after a new version had been released. After three such occurrences where he got the newer version as a replacement, our IT director - out of whose budget phones came - wised up. The next time the sales numpty broke his phone he got one of those ruggedised feature phones, an older one at that with an enormous by iPhone standards rubber coated shell.

        1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

          Re: Someone wanted a new laptop

          I recall a conversation with a rep from one of our suppliers. His employer had issues with people who didn't respect their cars - after all "it's not mine" seemed to be the attitude from some of the reps. So the managers came up with a plan, and bought an old, low spec car - of a make that no-one wanted to be seen dead in (at the time, I recall that Skoda was one such make). Then the rule was "if you prang your car, you get the old Skoda for a month" - or until someone else prangs theirs if sooner.

          The accident rate amongst the reps halved almost immediately.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Someone wanted a new laptop

            I recall having seen this done with a red Ford Ka (complete with black dots) as the booby prize for an example

            It was joined a few months later by a black one with yellow dots

            This was doubly effective because of the faff that reps had getting stuff into/out of the things

    3. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: We've all made that call.

      The good old Benchmark test: See how big of a mark it leaves when dropped off a workbench.

  2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Well played by Loudon! A bumpy road is clearly a good replacement for the BOFH's panel-beating hammer of yore.

    Somehow I am thinking of a dead skunk in the middle of the road now. Wonder why

    1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

      "Somehow I am thinking of a dead skunk in the middle of the road now. Wonder why"

      First thing that came to mind.

      1. Sherrie Ludwig

        You mean this?

        1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

          Re: You mean this?


  3. GlenP Silver badge


    Not quite IT but inevitably under our remit...

    Previous company had two paper shredders, an elderly strip shredder and a much newer, and more secure, cross cut one.

    Payslips were still produced on a matrix printer as a printed top sheet with the actual secure NCR slip underneath so the top sheet was split off. The top sheets were kept as a strip for the required period then a year's worth would be shredded in one go, which was where the argument started. Firstly the newer shredder would only take one sheet of paper at a time and frequently jammed - that was easily sorted by actually lubricating the thing which I discovered hadn't been done in several years. The second complaint was it would only run continuously for a few hours a day - well it was only a 50% duty cycle!

    Because of these issues they absolutely insisted they would use the old shredder for the job. It was pointed out that it was insecure, and the Company would be liable under the (relatively new) Data Protection Act* since it was easy to piece the paper back together again, but the payroll people were adamant. The old shredder happened to be in the wrong building though and needed moving about 100 yards so a couple of the shop floor were enlisted for the job. Now I'm not saying they did drop it deliberately, and I'm not saying they didn't, but the end result was some bent components and loud graunching sounds when it was turned on - result achieved!

    *A company had recently been fined due to a lack of an adequate shredding policy when an employee "happened" to find a copy of his payslip in a black rubbish bag. Everyone was certain it was a stitch-up but it cost a few thousand pounds.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Peripherals

      So do you know who slipped the Shop Floor guys a couple of notes to perform the impromptu permanent deactivation?

      1. DailyLlama

        Re: Peripherals

        Yes, but the notes were shredded for security purposes.

    2. Sam not the Viking Silver badge

      Re: Peripherals

      Not IT but..... We delivered a new electric motor to a mine. After a month or so, the customer complained that the shaft "was not running true". The motor was retrieved from the shaft and returned for examination.

      The 4" diameter shaft was bent through 90-degrees........

      "That's how we received it."

      £75k of scrap.

      1. Suburban Inmate

        Re: Peripherals

        Nothing a length of scaffold couldn't fix, shirly?

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Peripherals

      "lack of an adequate shredding policy...Everyone was certain it was a stitch-up"

      Oh well played, nicely done :-)

    4. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Peripherals

      "The top sheets were kept as a strip for the required period then a year's worth would be shredded in one go,"

      If your company is purging paper records, it might just be cheaper to hire a shredding company to come around with their truck and have it all done in a few minutes while you watch. I'd only use my shredder for casual stuff, like junk mail. I kept a load of junk mail around to shred with things I wanted to make sure were destroyed. Hiding the tree in the forest.

  4. DS999 Silver badge

    You don't really even need to break it

    Just put forth less effort to fix it everytime it goes down. Something breaks, tell them "I will need to go onto the internet to research this problem" and take advantage of the quiet time that will afford you to catch up on your email or other paperwork. Then you go ahead and fix it, but warn them that information about troubleshooting and fixing such obsolete hardware is becoming more and more difficult to find so it will probably take longer and longer for you to fix it each time it breaks.

    If they don't learn their lesson after a few times doing this, next time just fully work on the other responsibilities of your job and totally ignore their ancient equipment. Tell them "I'm waiting for a call back from a retired engineer who is the only guy I've found who has said he's seen this problem and may know what to do". After being down for half a week, you can fix it and tell them how lucky they are that guy finally contacted him because you never would have been able to solve it without his help. Maybe subtly remind them that if you were hit by a bus and they have to hire a replacement finding someone who has even what little experience with that obsolete hardware you do will be very expensive since they are all either retired or moved on to more lucrative fields.

  5. abend0c4 Silver badge

    We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

    Having regularly had to take them in flight cases on transatlantic journeys, the disk packs themselves were remarkably robust - not entirely surprising given the rather low information density.

    I'm sure the sheer weight of the actual drives being manoeuvred over rough ground (assuming you could summon up the necessary effort) would quickly throw the heads out of alignment, but they were otherwise quite solidly built [The box with the switches is a CDC TB216 Field Test Unit, not a Digital computer, the basic drives were supplied by CDC].

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

      That was my first thought. A lot of those old drives could have been pushed down a flight of stairs and would have been fine after a polish and head alignment.

      The 256MB packs (RM05s?) were relabelled CDC kit, was the RM03?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

        There was a point where the maintenance costs associated with this type of equipment and even just the cost of re-commissioning would be more than potentially moving to newer equipment, heck even the electrical consumptions costs could probably make a business case!

        1. abend0c4 Silver badge

          Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

          electrical consumptions costs could probably make a business case

          RM03s had power sequencing cables to ensure that only one would start up at a time - the surge currents were pretty substantial (22A @240V) until the motors came up to speed. In standby, they consumed 3.5A @240V and while active around 7A. For 67MB.

      2. abend0c4 Silver badge

        Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

        The 256MB packs (RM05s?) were relabelled CDC kit, was the RM03?

        You can find the RM02/3 service manual here which cross-references the DEC and CDC part numbers.

        I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think all of the "washing machine" stye drives were from OEMs.

        1. GlenP Silver badge

          Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

          I'm pretty certain all the ones I worked with said DEC on the front and CDC inside!

          1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

            Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

            Reading this, retro computing enthusiasts are probably screaming! All that precious working gear being deliberately destroyed!

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

              As noted, a realignment was almost always what was actually needed - remember they parked heads off the platters

              It was far worse if mains was applied to sensitive parts of the low voltage circuitry by way of a "PSU fault", usually resulting in widespread release of Magic Smoke

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

          but I think all of the "washing machine" stye drives were from OEMs.

          First IT-related job my wife had (well before I met her - she did a NCC computer course rather than doing 6th form in the early 1980s) was when she was a data-input/credit control clerk on some ancient minicomputer at a double-glazing manufacturer. She was also responsible for swapping out the removable drive pack that was used for backups (press spin-down button, wait for light to go green, open top, swap waiting drive pack with the one for that week, label and store the one you just took out).

          Generally the process worked fine but, just occasionally the drive wouldn't spin down and they'd have to call in an engineer to force it before the pack could be swapped.

          Dunno how big the capacity of the drives - this was in the mid 1980s so I don't imagine it was terribly big...

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

            was when she was a data-input/credit control clerk on some ancient minicomputer at a double-glazing manufacturer

            I am reliably informed by said long-term spouse that it was a Systime 5000 that she looked after.. There are *very* few pictures of one on t'internet

            Routine was to do a final backup the weeks transactions to the disk pack, eject it (cross fingers that it worked), put in next disk pack (son/father/grandfather method) and leave it there for the daily backups.

            Quite heavy apparently (she's 5'2" and not heavily built!)

          2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

            I remember in 6th form on an open day at York University they proudly showed us the washing-machine-sized hard drives in the computer department. "That's ***TEN*** megabytes there". I was gobsmacked. Back at school the server had 200 megabytes in a case the size of a shoe box.

          3. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

            "just occasionally the drive wouldn't spin down"

            Usually because the bloody thing was still mounted and computers tended to react badly to finding the storage they were accessing had gone away without warning

            A "fault"(*) which was replicated in scsi tape days by requiring ALL initiator-terminator locks were removed before releasing a device (which could be "rather a few unexpected ones" in the case of multipathing

            (*) Not a fault in the kit, a fault in the operators/programmers for not checking for this possiblity

      3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: We were not gentle, and each RM03 had a rough journey

        I spent one summer working on the RK06 production line. All designed and built inhouse, as was the more popular successor RK07.

  6. Richard Gray 1

    Bizarre printer failure

    We did have one person who didn't want to loose his personal Laser jet printer despite being told that the orders had come from on high.

    If he was a better user we might have been slower to respond...

    We did a guerrilla run into his office at night. used a strip of black insulation tape over the laser unit /fuser (I can't remember which).

    He came down the next day with a printout with one column missing. We took the printer away for "repairs" and was never seen again

    1. robinsonb5

      Re: Bizarre printer failure

      I'm going to hope it was the laser unit - or the imaging drum. Having spent a happy half hour last year peeling gooey plastic labels off a modern fusing belt, I can only begin to imagine the smell of insulating tape getting smeared around an oldschool fuser!

      1. gryphon

        Re: Bizarre printer failure

        Was a very regular occurrence.

        Either non-laser labels or non-laser overhear projector slides.

        Very occasionally you could slice through the slide without damaging the coated roller underneath and not have to replace the fuser but was usually more luck than judgement.

        Which way it went often depended if they had a service contract covering accidental damage or not of course.

      2. Not Yb Bronze badge

        Re: Bizarre printer failure

        I've still got some of that foil tape stuff that was meant to go through the fuser after you had first printed something onto the page. It would stick to the bits that had been printed on and give some spot color to otherwise monochrome prints.

        A VERY niche product, really.

    2. Potty Professor

      Re: Bizarre printer failure

      Back in the mid eighties, when I was just learning how to program my shiny new ZX Spectrum, I managed to borrow a redundant dot matrix printer from my employer's lab foreman, all legal and signed for. After several months, a site inventory was called for, and grumblings were made about this ancient DMP being beyond its service life, so it was recalled. I took it back to the lab, and the foreman said that I could have it back on loan next day. Imagine my disappointment when I went to get it, only to find that it had been condemned and sent for scrap. There was nothing wrong with it, it was simply considered to be too old to remain on the inventory. :-(

      1. TheOtherPhil

        Re: Bizarre printer failure

        Working for a large telco in the 90's; the workshop foreman would receive instructions to dispose of aged equipment after each annual stock-take.

        He'd loudly announce "I'm just going out to throw this perfectly good equipment in the skip", and we'd queue up to give it a soft landing.

        (Still got some of it... still going strong.)

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Bizarre printer failure

        it was simply considered to be too old to remain on the inventory. :-(

        I'm getting to that stage too.. (not quickly enough for my liking!)

  7. GroovyLama

    Mid-2000's, a colleague had got back from some international travel and had been complaining the hard drive in his laptop was making a lot of dodgy sounds, and laptop was running slow, and that it needed replacing. IT told him it needed to be reviewed before the drive could be swapped, and someone would be round lunchtime to check it over.

    He decided to perform his own check. He pulled the drive out of the laptop - this was a Dell laptop. I seem to remember you could unclip the drive out quite easily, just like the batteries. A Latitude model maybe? - He started off by shaking the drive up to his ear, and then proceeded to SLAM it down on the desk a few times. He then held it up and shook it again.

    "Yup, it's definitely got a rattle to it. I think it's knackered".

    Cue all the surprised faces when IT came to check the laptop and it couldn't boot off the drive. Replacement drive provided post haste!

    1. DrollLeek

      Latte: Chewed

      I loved my Latitude. Easy to dismantle and upgrade, powerful enough to run my studio software, firewire port for the audio interface.

      Sadly not wine-proof or I'd probably still be using it for something.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Latte: Chewed

        It turns out that my work laptop is wine proof.

        AC obviously

        1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          Re: Latte: Chewed

          It turns out that my Corsair gaming mouse is beer-proof, provided you run it under a cold tap for a few minutes, and then leave it on the radiator to dry overnight.

          It surprised me too, but it was worth a try before ordering a replacement.

          The keyboard is rated as waterproof, so if it had happened in that direction, it would just have been a case of cleaning all the key-caps.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Latte: Chewed

            A cold tap?

            Like the ones found in pubs for providing beer?

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Latte: Chewed

              Beer isn't served cold.

              Lager usually is, though.

              Honestly, kids these days ...

      2. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

        Re: Latte: Chewed

        My last Latitude was killed by herbal tea - with honey and lemon in it. Sugary stuff and citric acid does a serious amount of damage!

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Latte: Chewed

          Tea *is* a herb, isn't it?

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Latte: Chewed

            No, it's a shrub :-)

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Latte: Chewed

              Shrubs are just small bushes, usually decorative in nature with no other function.

              It's a herbaceous, evergreen bush.

              1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

                Re: Latte: Chewed

                Is rosemary a herb? I have a small rosemary shrub in my garden.

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: Latte: Chewed

                  "Is rosemary a herb?"

                  No. It's a woody aromatic evergreen shrub.

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Latte: Chewed

        Sadly not wine-proof

        My current personal Mac has survived a wine attack (youngest cat is quite adept at knocking over a wine glass in the exact direction needed to cause it to cover the keyboard). Fortunately, dry red wine isn't particularly sticky so the keybaord still works.

        Said cat was responsible for the demise of the previous Mac that NewMac was bought to replace. In OldMacs case, her chosen weapon was a full glass of clementine juice. I did turn the Mac off ASAP and try to use damp cloths to clean the keyboard (it was one of the dodgy butterfly switch keyboards so was semi-knackered already) but the keys kept either not registering or sticking down. And a non-warranty repaclement was quoted to me as £700 - on a Mac that was worth (at best) £500.

        OldMac is currently languising in the box of old crap in the server room upstairs at home along with EvenOlderMac (AKA 'emergency Proxmox server') and a whole drawer full of "past IT tat I've had" (including an Apple Newton Messagepad in prime condition).

        1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

          Re: Latte: Chewed

          And if you have a SWMBO like mine, you regularly get ear ache from complaints about the old "rubbish" you hoard. Some people just don't understand.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the pointy end

    > you might expect that an aerospace corporation would want to be at the pointy end of technological innovation

    Many aircraft have a service life of 20 years or more, so the IT kit at the manufacturer has to be compatible with what the customers have. It's probably the same for industrial or medical systems.

    I recall getting a task to create some update floppies (single sided/single density IIRC) for distribution in the days when CDs were the standard. Finding a system with a suitable drive was the hard part. Then working out file formats. Then testing the update mechanism on a multi-million dollar test aircraft (gulp).

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: the pointy end

      Yep, basically if there's an aircraft still flying you HAVE to keep all the records, models, drawings, etc. You can attempt to bring them up to a newer standard, but budgets rarely extend that far, and automated systems are a nightmare (as my Firm found out when they decided to transition from CATIA V5 to Siemens NX - basically for anything that's going to be modified in the future, it's easier and quicker just to remodel from scratch in NX, than to try and wrangle the conversion into shape...).

      I still remember in my first job many moons ago, when CATIA V5 was the new Airbus standard (mid 2000's), that there were still at least a few people working daily on terminals running an early version of CADDS (cant remember which version but easily mid 80's if not older). At least the old Airbus rule was to stick to one CAD/PLM system for the entire length of the Aircraft project (so A400M was the first to move to CATIA V5, before that it was V4). No idea if that rule is still in place...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: the pointy end

        When I left a company in that arena 5 years ago, there was still a repair technical who would demonstrate repairing core memories yearly.

        I wasn't allowed to know how many she repaired, but I did see her records for the demonstration/practice for the last 30 years.

      2. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

        Re: the pointy end

        When I did my technical drawing apprenticeship, it was at a government aerospace research centre (long since privatised). I had to design a new vulcanised rubber fuel cell for the 1950s Hawker Hunter jet that was still being used 40 years after it rolled off the production line. I worked from the original, very fragile blueprints provided by BAE. They had initially sent over a set of "new old stock" fuel cells, only for our engineers to discover they had been improperly stored and were rock hard.

      3. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: the pointy end

        Famously, there was an issue with the Airbus A380 wiring... why? It's claimed by some that the Germans and Spanish were using Computervision, whilst the French and English used CATIA, and two different computer models were in use during early manufacture. However, there are plenty who dispute that story because apparently CATIA never handled wiring bundles (but from all accounts, it's Computervision that was 2D and didn't do 3D models the way CATIA did). Only Airbus knows the truth to this, we only know that the end result was a delay of a few years (and a cost of a couple of billion euros) while all the wiring had to be redone on the early production aircraft. Airbus also quickly ensured that all production sites used the same version of the software for the next project.

    2. NXM Silver badge

      Re: the pointy end

      I know this to be true, as I worked in the auto test department of an aircraft manufacturer for a while.

      The place was full of ancient computers that had to be kept running until every last one of the aircraft they'd been used on were out of service, because if you used anything else you didn't know if the tests were valid or not. Think Winchester drives, azodye printers and computers made entirely out of 74 series chips. Every now and again something would go wrong and a guy would turn up to fix it. One HP guy saw this creaking fossil he was asked to fix and said, "wow, I've not seen one of those for years, can we have it for the museum?"

      The answer was "No, we're still using it!"

      Sometimes people would smell smoke and would run around trying to find out which one of the prehistoric machines had overheated, but it usually turned out to be smoke from a bonfire outside.

    3. Bill 21

      Re: the pointy end

      Around 2005, i got a call from a defence customer about a system they'd had from us in about 1990. The system had a few more years to go on support, and one of the 10MB Winchester drives had just failed. They still had the spare drive we'd supplied but weren't confident to set it up. I could still remember the pain I had setting the things up first time round - stone age tools, useless fragmented instructions, and sacred details residing in the heads of annoying gits. And the bollocking after for 'wasting time' writing up some decent instructions and trying them out.

      Anyway, I was suitably impressed by my younger self''s scribblings because it went relatively smoothly. I was a bit twitchy about getting some data for it off a 15 year old TK50 cartridge that had spent the time in a box in succession of security cabinets on three different sites, but the worst problem was only I'd completely forgotten how to get the cartridge into the drive.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: the pointy end

        Anon for obvious reasons ...

        And this is a major headache for our area. From start to finish, it's heading on for 2 decades to design and build a submarine. Technology moves on. I'm dealing with systems where kit is already obsolete and we've not finished the design of the system, and it's going to be another half a decade before the boat leaves. And then the sub will be expected to be in service for another 3 decades.

        Unfortunately, I suspect it won't be possible to arrange for some very nice Cisco switches to be tossed in a skip where i can give them a soft landing. I could do a rather nice home network upgrade with them, and I don't care if they're out of support.

    4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: the pointy end

      After posting on a retrocomputing board, I received an email from someone looking to repair a serial data terminal I had worked on. I had to tell him that it was built so cheaply and with proprietary components, that repair would be a frustratingly expensive effort with uncertain results.

      I was, however, able to provide him with a terminal emulator program, which allowed him to communicate with the piece of test equipment used to repair some not yet obsolete military aircraft. The test equipment had used a minicomputer that supported only the particular terminal I had worked on, so no terminal [emulator], no way to communicate with the test equipment and no flying for that aircraft.

  9. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

    Rare machines

    I used to be friends with someone who worked with some machines called "Deltas". The company was bought out and they were told all IT work had to be done by the new owner's IT department.

    So my friend had one of their guys come out and look at the deltas in their racks. Guy looks at one and asks basically "what the fuck is that?"

    "That's a delta."

    Guy takes out a form and starts to fill in the details... "does it have a serial number?"

    "X00001, the X is for eXperimental"

    Guy looks at him, and then asks "How many of these are there?"

    "5, X00001 to X00005"

    "How many were built?"


  10. trevorde Silver badge

    What is old, is new again

    Told to me as a true story...

    A bloke in Melbourne, Australia, used to go to the government surplus auctions and buy up all the old/obsolete computer gear for cents on the dollar. He'd then store it in an old aircraft hanger and ... wait. Sure enough, there'd be some other government department who'd require some parts to keep their old/obsolete gear running. And who was the only person who had these bits? I'm sure he sold them at a reasonable price.

    1. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

      Re: What is old, is new again

      A story I know to be true was Transport For London buying DEC parts from eBay to keep certain London Underground systems going. This was in the 2006 - 2009 timeframe.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What is old, is new again

      I work in a bank.

      We have AS400 work on Power P720 boxes that need to use second hand parts.

      They went EOSL in 2019.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: What is old, is new again

        So get a new one and upgrade to the current OS level.

        And yes, I know what I am talking about, also worked at a bank on AS/400, helped with the upgrade from V5R3 to V7R1 (single step, impossible according to IBM until we wrote the book).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What is old, is new again

          You assume there is the budget for anything but the shiny new Azure stuff, that won't run a Production load for a good while yet?

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: What is old, is new again

            My assumption is that the bank has to comply with regulations, outdated and unsupported essential IT systems are not compliant. And yes, that AS/400 is likely to be extremely essential.

    3. usbac Silver badge

      Re: What is old, is new again

      I've made good money in the past from buying pallets of old IT junk from a local county auction, and selling parts of it on Ebay. I once bought a pallet with a brand new label printer, a couple of new print-heads, and a ton of label stock for $10. Got over $1000 for it. Another had a box of rare network cards (about 10-12), I got $400 each on Ebay. The buyers were very happy to find them.

      All of these pallets were shrink-wrapped, and you have no idea what is in them. But, for $10-$20, it was usually worth the effort.

    4. Scott 26

      Re: What is old, is new again

      Similar to when I was working in London - we were slowly upgrading our network from TR to ethernet...

      I had the job of swapping over the desktop NICs. I asked what happened to the old TR NICx? Oh - the desktop supplier swaps the ethernet NIC for the TR one for free. Oh... for free? Yeah, the supplier can onsell them to other customer who haven't made the jump to ethernet yet.... for huge money as they are scarce as hens' teeth.

  11. Charles E


    I was on the receiving end of a problem like this. Our company purchased a new Agfa imagesetter, $200k if I recall. But upon delivery, they dropped it 3 inches off the truck tailgate onto our loading dock. The light-tight laser compartment was damaged and leaked light into the film compartment, every film we printed was ruined. The techs came out repeatedly to slap opaque tape over the area where they thought the pinholes were, but they could never fix it. I think the shipper's insurance must have eaten it, we eventually sent it back for a replacement. It sure was a nice piece of hardware, once we got a working unit.

    1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

      Re: Ouch

      "It sure was a nice piece of hardware, once we got a working unit."

      I worked with its little brother, the $50K'ish one (can't recall the model name/number). Yeah, it was a great workhorse unit.

  12. ComicalEngineer

    Obsolete hardware and software ....

    I have a couple of legacy machines (one is a 24 year old Dell Dimension) which have some legacy explosion modelling software on them. I was going to bin the Dell as it's a big lump of metal taking up space and hasn't been used in anger for about 3 years -- until a customer emailed me and asked if I could do some modelling using the obsolete software package which their work had been done on in 2004. The software is no longer available (hasn't been since 2015 when support ceased following the retirement of the writer) and runs under DOS (or in the tweaked version which I have) in a DOS window.

    The original input files were sent to me on a 3.5" floppy.

    Fortunately the Dell still has a working floppy drive.

    The output result files were returned to the customer via email with the revised input files.

    1. jake Silver badge

      But is it really "obsolete"?

      I have a stone axe that I use to split kindling. It has been working for me for over forty years, since I made it. My Betamax machine still gets used occasionally to recover old videos. I still use Hollerith cards and punched tape (Mylar mostly, but occasionally I'll be asked to recover data off paper). My Buggywhips were lovingly hand-crafted by an Amish bloke. I have clients who still use MFM and RLL drives (machine control equipment, mostly). I know many Veterinarians who still use blood machines that run from a single floppy, no HDD at all. I take care of a machine shop in Silly Con Valley which still uses a couple of 8" floppy drives for machine control software. And then there is the 1915 Case traction engine still used for working the ground, and the 1916 hit-and-miss industrial washing machine that we use to wash the barn's horse blankets.

      IMO, it's not obsolete as long as somebody is still making good use of it. Old fashioned? Absolutely! But obsolete? Maybe not so much.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Copier Replacement

    Many years ago at our small office we had a copier where you had to put the pink sheet on top of the oily copy media. It took forever and the result was barely useful.

    The output had this waxy feeling surface and you had to squint to read anything.

    I decided we needed to replace this copier. My buddy and I picked it up and "accidentally" dropped it op the floor.

    We had to drop it twice before it stopped working. We finally got a plain paper copier!

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Copier Replacement

      When I was a kid my grade school had a "ditto machine" that produced copies with purple-ish lettering that had a peculiar smell I bet I would still recognize today.

      1. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

        Re: Copier Replacement

        Where I'm from they were called Fordigraph machines. The smell you (and I) remember was methylated spirits and aniline, which was the purple pigment.

        Must have been used in primary schools the world over. I can state with certainty it was 1985 when the school got its first photocopier, and how proud the deputy principal was to have it in his office - which was only just bigger than the photocopier itself.

        The Fordigraph still got used to print whatever tests the teachers were setting the kids, because $.

        If you left the copy in the sun for a day or more, the print would disappear and the paper would turn yellow and fall apart into little flakes.

        1. PRR Silver badge

          Re: Copier Replacement

          > it was 1985 when the school got its first photocopier

          The Fordigraph still got used to print whatever tests the teachers were setting...

          Our town library had a Xerox machine by 1972? Certainly by 1977 because I left that place.

          Fordigraph page (a small portable Mimeograph)

          Into the 21st century, Risograph was pushing their duplicator into schools. Highly advanced (or cobbled) mimeograph. It cut a stencil by scanning an original, instead of typing a special master. It drum-wrapped by magic, then finally ejected the yucky inky master at the end of the run, no mess. It stopped and cried when its (cheap!) ink ran low. It was indeed cheaper than xerography for >100 copies. Not great print quality (the model we had) but much better than a good mimeograph (we had several of those in the day). My university department kept one busy with lessons and quizzes and music scores.

          1. Cian_

            Re: Copier Replacement

            In my 90s school there was still a split between using a modern, stencilless duplicator (admin staff called it a Gestetner but I think that was more as a generic name, not that it was a Gestetner process or even brand machine) and an actual copier based on the required volume of copies. Duplicator looked like any other 80s copier, just maybe even more grey and boring.

          2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: Copier Replacement

            Oooo, I loved our Riso when I worked doing leaflet printing. Got into a good regular rythmn passing the output onto the drying desk, and then into the folding machine. kerthunk kerthunk kerthunk kerthunk :)

            And the people coming in "oo, can I just use the photocopier..." Ok, that's 5 quid please, that's a 5,000 master you've just used.

          3. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

            Re: Copier Replacement

            Aaaaah, I'd managed to forget about the Riso a previous employer had. It eventually got replaced with one of the new fangled digital copiers, but until it did, guess who had to deal with any problems ... yup, yours truly.

            Only this one did not "finally ejected the yucky inky master at the end of the run, no mess". If you tried, it failed, and then there was shredded, scrunched, yucky inky master that needed removing by hand. Of course, because the people that used it didn't have to deal with it, some of them didn't always head my instructions that "you must manually remove the master" - which was easy to do before it was shredded and scrunched as the leading edge was ink free so you just grabbed it and peeled off before dropping it in the bin.

        2. notyetanotherid

          Re: Copier Replacement

          > Where I'm from they were called Fordigraph machines.

          ... in the UK the most common brand, to be found in most schools, was Banda.

          Generically they are known as spirit duplicators, see

    2. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

      Re: Copier Replacement

      "a copier where you had to put the pink sheet on top of the oily copy media"

      I remember something vaguely like that, except that it used a top sheet that was kind of yellowish onion-skin, though I could be wrong about that. As I recall, you'd put a sheet of that stuff on top of the original and run them through the machine together, then put the onion-skin on top of a sheet of blank copy media and run those through together. (Can't recall whether both passes took the same path through the machine, or whether there were two pairs of input/output slots. Hmmm, maybe the first pass wasn't a slot feed, but a flatbed like a modern copier/scanner. I also don't recall anything about copy quality.) This is from the late 60s.

    3. ricardian

      Re: Copier Replacement

      In 1973 I started work in a government office that had a "copier" which used liquids (no idea what they were) and you had to use barrier cream before attempting to use the machine. It produced copies that were "not bad". Nowadays the unions would scream blue murder about H&S!

  14. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Our method of ensuring something

    is broke goes like this

    "Give it to the apprentice"

    Or as so often happens with the laptops that have been bounced, abused and generally sat on, is that they fall into the plating tank with the result we get a cheapy one from PC world, and stick our software on that.

    Sadly this came up against a former PFY... dead keen he was ..... who noticed I put my laptop on the cabinet next to the plating tank........

    This earned him a right dinging since A: that was MY laptop, B: it had a shedload of data on it C: I was on my way to back it up when a technical call stopped me and D: It was'nt broken ...well not until it settled to the bottom of the plating tank....

    Should have thrown him in there too(he went to a rival company a few years ago... they went bust.... whether these two events are linked who knows )

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Our method of ensuring something

      A:, B:, C: & D:

      A laptop with two floppies and two hard drives? ;)

  15. Daedalus

    Beware the beehive

    I never did find out what the Beehive was, but it was somewhere and we had to write code as if it were going to run on the Beehive. Or at least take account of the Beehive's data protocols. You see, it was the 80s and a world famous chemical company had been in the process control automation business for decades. So many decades, in fact, that there was a machine colloquially known as the Beehive that dated from the 60s.

    Never mind that there were systems that could run whole sections of chemical plants autonomously. There was still the Beehive, and there was Fortran IV, which was the language in vogue when the Beehive went into service. And which therefore was the language in which all work had to be done. Just for good measure, the programming rules said that each statement had to have its own label number whether it was the target of the dreaded GOTO or not. Earlier writers had helpfully left gaps in the numbering to allow statements to be inserted between, but of course those gaps were usually filled up by the time I fetched up there for the worst year of my career.

    Did I mention that the developers there were among the least talented I have ever encountered? There were two gurus who weren't going to let new ideas get in the way of their retirement.

    Oh well, they want editing, I'll give them editing. Delete 100 statements and replace them with the originals plus whatever I needed to add, all nicely renumbered. Make that 200 when necessary. This all had to be submitted as a "job" rather than done on the fly with an editor, as I was used to by then. That's their problem.

    Turn the wheel the way it goes, only more so.

    1. Bebu Silver badge

      Re: Beware the beehive

      The label numbering sound awfully like the early BASICs but at least some of those had a RENUM command.

      From what I can remember almost all BASIC code was written by anti-programmers ("among the least talented")*

      Fortran IV wasn't too bad and with the RATFOR preprocessor not too shabby at all.

      Pesonally I would have written something to strip out all the redundant line numbers ie those not targets of GOTO, DO, WRITE, READ etc statements.

      *British Standard Understatement.

      1. RAMChYLD

        Re: Beware the beehive



        Gotos are your friend and line numbers are awesome.

        If it can't be done it fortran do it in assembly. If it still can't be done, it's not worth doing.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Beware the beehive

          If it can't be done it fortran do it in assembly. If it still can't be done, it's not worth doing.

          I prefer to skip Fortran and go straight to assembly, saves me at least one headache.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'It was delivered that way'

    At the opposite end of the scale we had equipment delivered to a customer, it was signed for by a numpty and dropped into a deep hole.

    Customer queried where it was. Signed and dated delivery note was speedily found. Isn't modern technology wonderful?

    'oh, we've conveniently found it now, but it's broken. Please send a replacement'

    resist fist of death, confirm with manufacturer first. Manufacturer confirms equipment was well shipped and the only way it could be broken in the manner described was due to abuse.

    'we're very disappointed by the level of customer service'

    Well, we're disappointed at the repair cost we make minimal to negative margin on when it's your fault.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A few years ago I was invited to MOD Wattisham to do a bit of a tour of the Westland Apaches. As one does, you get talking about the software. Considering the capabilities of those machines, certain elements are surprisingly antiquated. One might be shocked by time it takes to boot up fully.

    I am reliably informed the E model upgrade over the D will resolve much of this, but like all things military the kicking and screaming over inadequate budgets compared to our ambitions are an ongoing headache.

    1. Aladdin Sane

      The AH-64A is 48 years old. The AH-64D (on which the Westlands variant is based) is 30 years old. I'm not surprised it takes ages to boot.

    2. Caver_Dave Silver badge

      How long does your router take to initialise?

      Helicopters (and most other military type equipment) have very complex networking needs that take time to initialise. I know of an aircraft with a 96 port Ethernet on either side of the fuselage for redundancy, with fixed IP's delivered to the DHCP requesting equipment on each port (to aid in hot swapping), sharing of information between the duplicate routers and the multiple control computers, etc.

      The routers have significant memory, etc. that all has to be scrubbed before use, inbuilt redundancy and much more. Configuring routing protocols, supplying boot code to network devices, etc. all take significant time.

      No wonder they have to take 30 seconds to become fully available for management purposes. Then there is the boot time of all the redundant computing resources for the control, and synchronising all this with all the other devices over the networks that may have interdependencies.

      Most customers used to complain about the boot time of the routers I supplied, but then when reminded of a few of the above they tended to realise that it was not too long.

      The one customer requirement that couldn't take too long was the gun turret on a marine vessel that was only activated when an incoming missile was detected. 5 seconds boot up for the whole system was thoroughly justified in that case.

  18. Daniel Bourque

    pre-2000 testing

    1999 was a very good year to get rid of old, obsolete stuffs.... Sorry, it don't pass the 2000/01/01 testing.....

  19. MachDiamond Silver badge

    In our own house

    I've seen in more than one place where nobody was thinking about upgrading the office tech and creating a budget for that. Accountants will also do things such as have a budget for a department that doesn't include repairs, but if they want to replace something, it comes out of the departments budget which is likely already straining at the seams. This can be one of the curses of accountants. They only see the prices but pay no attention to the costs. Not only would a drive upgrade add more storage, it could shrink the space required, use less power (and less AC to keep cool and be easy to migrate over files.

    My HP 4100TN works like a champ and I pick up OEM toner cartridges off of eBay when I spot a good price. I have a stack of multi-function machines that I've acquired for free over the years as a back up. I don't do much printing at home (WFH) as a good portion are large prints and I can just send those off to the office supply store where they have several large machines and pick them up later. If I spot another 4000 series HP in good nick, it's coming home with me.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: In our own house

      "If I spot another 4000 series HP in good nick, it's coming home with me."

      Turns out it was a Laserjet 2055, but the toner is very expensive for that one. I can't complain about a free printer that will cost me $30 for a new cartridge that will be good for a year or two.

  20. darklord

    Surely breaking equipment which does not belong to you no matter how old it is is effectively vandalism and most employers would sack employees for that. equipment has a value until its written off as scrap and of no further use. and in todays sustainability and environmental impacts of scrap material everything has a value even as scrap.

    Surprised the submitter wasnt canned for his actions and asked to explain why the equipment which was running is now toast.

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