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It's funny.  Laugh. Data Storage IT

10 Computer Mishaps 898

Ant writes "ZDNet UK posted Ontrack Data Recovery's 2004 list of the 10 strangest and funniest computer mishaps... Some of them are funny!" My best mishap was installing the alpha video driver on an NT 3.51 box thinking that it was just an alpha driver. Of course since this Alpha meant DEC and this was an x86 box, the server barfed pretty hard. Also the time I spilled an 8oz glass of water on my laptop and lost all my email from 1994 to 1999 and my backup was corrupted. That I liked too.
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10 Computer Mishaps

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  • #1 Works! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:26AM (#13379767)
    Hey, freezing a broken hard disk works, really, just don't do it like this. [arrowsmash.com]
    • Re:#1 Works! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by RealityMogul ( 663835 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:40AM (#13379930)
      I tried freezing a drive that wasn't working once. Didn't help any.
      What did help was taking the cover off and physically holding the arm in place so the head couldn't jump back and forth. Drive worked well enough to get data off after that.
      It should be noted that this solution was simply a result of getting really pissed off at the drive because nothing else would work.
      • Re:#1 Works! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jandrese ( 485 ) * <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @04:59PM (#13383056) Homepage Journal
        Interesting. I wonder if the on-disk firmware for the drive (yes HDDs run mostly off of code stored on the disk) got corrupted and by holding the arm back you were forcing the drive to run in a minimally functional PIO mode or something. I had a batch of Maxtors that were terrible about corrupting their on-drive firmware. The problem manifested as the drives silently returning corrupt data too, which was highly annoying. Fortunately it's a dead giveaway when you reboot the machine and see:

        ad10: 76319MB <MAXTOR 4K080H4/A08.1500> [155061/16/63] at ata5-master UDMA100
        ad12: 76319MB <MAXxo`yk.@#l2fv9!..3u> [155061/16/63] at ata6-master UDMA100
        ad14: 76319MB <MAXTOR 4K080H4/A08.1500> [155061/16/63] at ata7-master UDMA100
    • Re:#1 Works! (Score:3, Interesting)

      Indeed- I did this about a week ago. I was able to recover data from a seriously twitchy drive by sticking it in the freezer in the employee break room. It took a couple of sessions to get everything off the 60GB drive, because once it warmed up it just vanished from the system...
      It had a broken interface pin as well, so it was quite an adventure making the sucker work long enough to recover the user's documents.
      • Re:#1 Works! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Ingolfke ( 515826 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:26PM (#13380391) Journal
        once it warmed up it just vanished from the system...

        Yeah, this has to do with the MTC (mean temperature control) settings in the drive. The MTC monitors the average temperature of the drive and adjusts the speed of the drive as the temperature increases or decreases. The point is that at certain high temperature the drive components can actually expand (ever so slightly) and cause friction and physical damage to the drive. When the MTC begins to malfunction it detects the temperature incorrectly and stops the drive at temperatures that will not cause damage. So, the freezer's low temperature, for some reason, can cause the MTC to reset and thereby cause the drive to continue working. This effect may be temporary or relatively permanent. Although once this has occoured you're highly encouraged to purchase a new drive. The MTC is not user serviceable.
        • MTC... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @03:01PM (#13382003) Journal
          Actually, though I'm sure you're correct in some cases about the cold helping with a malfunctioning temp. sensor in the drive - I think the freezer trick also sometimes just works because of defective IC chips on the controller board portion of the drive.

          (Every IDE hard drive actually has the drive controller electronics bolted to a circuit board on the bottom of it. That's why the "IDE interface" is such a basic thing on your PC, whether it's integrated onto the motherboard or is a seperate PCI card. Most of the real work is done on the drive's electronics.)

          With some malfunctioning electronics, you can manage to keep them working properly as long as you keep them cold enough. (One of the old tricks for troubleshooting bad parts in TV sets and the like was to selectively spray them with a can of compressed air, chilling them temporarily.)
    • Re:#1 Works! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Fishstick ( 150821 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:24PM (#13380374) Journal
      Hate to do a "me too" post, but I did get desperate enough to try this once and it did work.

      Had an old NT box that I had used long ago as a domain controller at home (don't ask). Sucker had been running a long time not doing much other than acting as a logon & print server when the power went out. When the power came back and I went to start everything back up, the BIOS saw the drive, but it never spun up and I was left with the 'operating system not found' message.

      The drive was pretty old (Seagate 3.5 gig, I think) and there wasn't any really valuable data on it (or I would obviously have backed it up), but I wanted to at least boot the box one more time to see if there was anything I wanted to recover. I put the drive in a ziploc and stuck it in the freezer for like 20 minutes. Took it out, hooked it back up (leaving it in the bag to try to prevent as much condensation as possible), and it spun right up.

      Turned out there wasn't anything of any real interest on the drive, and it refused to ever spin up again, but I can vouch for the fact that this does indeed seem plausible.
    • by Black Perl ( 12686 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:27PM (#13380417)
      Freezing will not help with a head crash or key sectors going bad. But there have been cases where it works. Back in the early 90's there was a problem with many Quantum-brand drives called "stiction", where the platter would not spin up after having been powered down. An internal lubricant (or adhesive, I forget which) basically got slightly runny when the drive got hot and re-solidified a bit out of place when cooled. This provided just enough friction to prevent the low-torque motor from being able to spin the drive up. Sometimes just rotating the drive quickly by snapping your wrist back and forth would do it. Freezing is another technique that worked (sometimes a combination of the two).
  • My ones (Score:5, Funny)

    by brejc8 ( 223089 ) * on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:27AM (#13379777) Homepage Journal
    These really aren't very good but hopefully people will send some better ones in.
    My personal ones:

    A friend in the office had to install identical 2 machines with linux. Step 1: Install linux on one machine. Step 2: Install the hard drive from other machine into the computer. Step 3: 'dd' one disk over to the other one. Step 4: Scream as you did it the wrong way round and overwrote your newly installed disk with blank disk garbage.

    On a server I needed to remotely manually replace libc with an older version file from another machine. Ofcause you have to remember to do everything in a single command otherwise if you delete the old version you cannot run anything else. (I am sure there must be a simpler solution to that than take the disk out and do it on another machine)

    Leaving a computer under the desk but pushing it back as far as it would go so the back board of the desks fully covered the fan hole. It got very hot after a day and then burned out the cpu and powersupply in one go.

    Inserting a K6-3 into an older board which I didnt want to replace. The board had jumpers with markings for the CPU voltages 3.1, 3.0, 2.9, 2.8, 2.7 and followed by 2 unlabelled jumpers. The chip wanted 2.6v core supply (I cant remember the details) so foolishly I assumed the other two jumpers were the lower voltages for which there were no processors at that time. I was wrong and a puff of smoke appeared as my lovely new 450MHz executed its first and only operation.

    Checking if the IDE cable worked itself loose without moving the computer from its place and leaving it turned on. So I am reaching round the side and blindly feeling around for the cable and I suddenly feel something like an electric shock (which turned out just be accidentally touching the cpu fan blades). I very quickly remove my hand snagging it on one of the many sharp pieces of metal sticking out of old cases. It was quite cool to be able to see my muscles moving around as a huge piece of skin flopped open exposing the tendons in my hands.
    • Re:My ones (Score:5, Funny)

      by yfmaster ( 686465 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:31AM (#13379836) Homepage Journal
      wow, that last one made me flinch in pain. My favorite problem was when my dad called me to fix the monitor, "I was watering the plants and missed. Now the screen is black and there is smoke in the room."
    • Re:My ones (Score:4, Informative)

      by Aardpig ( 622459 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:34AM (#13379878)
      On a server I needed to remotely manually replace libc with an older version file from another machine. Ofcause you have to remember to do everything in a single command otherwise if you delete the old version you cannot run anything else. (I am sure there must be a simpler solution to that than take the disk out and do it on another machine).

      That's exactly what sln is for. It is like ln, but statically linked, so you can change the libc symlink without the system barfing.

    • Re:My ones (Score:3, Funny)

      by Epistax ( 544591 )
      Checking if the IDE cable worked itself loose without moving the computer from its place and leaving it turned on. So I am reaching round the side and blindly feeling around for the cable and I suddenly feel something like an electric shock (which turned out just be accidentally touching the cpu fan blades). I very quickly remove my hand snagging it on one of the many sharp pieces of metal sticking out of old cases. It was quite cool to be able to see my muscles moving around as a huge piece of skin flopped
    • Re:My ones (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:54AM (#13380074)
      When I was younger I had just finished making my first computer. I didn't put on the back plate though and so there was a medium sized hole in the back. Anyways, next day I wake up and go to turn on my computer and absolutely nothing happens. I open up the case to find a hamster inside the case with many gnawed wires. The IDE cable was chewed along with various others. The HD had been pissed on as had the motherboard. The entire computer was just gone... Multiple components not working at all anymore. My sister's hampster had gotten lose that previous night and just found my computer to be a good place to rest. Oddly enough, my cat killed that hamster the next time it got loose.
    • Re:My ones (Score:5, Funny)

      by Greedo ( 304385 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:01PM (#13380131) Homepage Journal
      And then it all went, like, BEEP BEEP BEEP, and ate your homework?
    • Re:My ones (Score:3, Informative)

      by Qzukk ( 229616 )
      (I am sure there must be a simpler solution to that than take the disk out and do it on another machine)

      LD_LIBRARY_PATH and LD_PRELOAD are your friends. Install the "new" old libc into a different directory, and set up wrapper(s) for whatever program(s) needed old libraries that set those variables to use the right library directory.
    • Re:My ones (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cyberax ( 705495 )
      "ifdown eth0" while working through SSH is my best one.
    • Re:My ones (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I once hoiked a P433 tower I had been coaxing back to life out my open bedroom window (fortunantly I didn't have a flyscreen on at the time) after 4 hours of sheer pain trying to get it to boot. After letting the thing sit in pouring rain for an hour, I dragged it back in and did the post mortem. Cracked Motherboard, CPU, Sink and the top of the socket ripped off and flopping around in the bottom of the case, a few busted PCI's.. And most chilling of all, the alleged master hdd set to slave, and the alleged
    • Re:My ones (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IngramJames ( 205147 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:39PM (#13380563)
      These [rinkworks.com] aren't my ones, but I once lost a day's productivity when I found the site.

      Mixed bag, but don't read in any circumstances where you can't afford to laugh out loud and squirt coffee through your nostrils.
    • Re:My ones (Score:4, Interesting)

      by _Sharp'r_ ( 649297 ) <sharper@@@booksunderreview...com> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:10PM (#13380905) Homepage Journal
      Circa 1996, I started a local ISP with a buddy of mine. I was the "technical" guy and he was the "sales" guy. I kept my day job until we had enough revenue to pay for us both.

      Our main system was a BSDi box that handled user authentication and POP3 email. Since he had to deal with signing up users in the office while I worked my day job, I showed my buddy how to add and edit users on the system.

      So one day he calls me and tells me that users have started complaining that they can't login. I start looking around and finally figure out the problem after some questioning.

      That day he was bored, so he decided to "clean up" the passwd file. There were some deleted users removed from the file, so the uid's were no longer in sequence. He merrily went through and renumbered them all so that they'd be in sequence in the file.

      The good news is that the user's mail directories were named after their username, so I could quickly use that as a reference to recreate which UID went with which username originally.

      In the summer of 1994, I was trying to fix a broken Compaq while working in an authorized service center. Generally, Compaq would credit us with 1.5 hours labor for a bad motherboard and usually it only took me 30 minutes to replace one. In this case, it was taking forever.

      I replaced the motherboard, but it wouldn't power up. After a little fiddling to double-check everything, I decided the new motherboard might be DOA and replaced it with another new one.

      Same result. Now I wondered if something else was wrong, like the power supply, since I couldn't even get any POST codes out of it. Still, the fans spun and such, so it was getting at least some power.

      So I hooked the power supply up to another machine. Worked fine, so I put it back. Still dead. At this point, nothing but the power supply, motherboard, cpu, ram and video card were connected, so I tried it without the video card. From previous tests when it first came in, I knew the cpu and ram were ok. Still nothing.

      Finally, I grabbed another new motherboard and plugged it into the power supply without even bothering to put it into the case. Started up just fine with me standing there holding it in the air.

      So relieved, I shut it down and put the new motherboard in the computer, asking myself what the odds were of having two DOA motherboards in a row.

      Apparently pretty slim, since once again I turned the computer on and got nothing. Pulled the Motherboard back out and held it and it worked fine again. Put it back in, got nothing.

      At this point, I obviously decided it was something with the case and went looking. Sure enough, there was an extra small metal clip that was supposed to help attach the motherboard to the case that had come loose and then wedged itself into a corner. It was in just the right position to make contact with a couple of the solder points on the motherboard, shorting them and causing the motherboard to shut itself down immediately without even POSTing.

      One removed, the whole thing worked fine. Later, I tried the original motherboard and it also worked fine, so somehow that clip worked it's way out while it was running.
    • Re:My ones (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pla ( 258480 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:16PM (#13380985) Journal
      Ofcause you have to remember to do everything in a single command otherwise if you delete the old version you cannot run anything else.

      It amazes me that every single Linux distro doesn't just come with statically linked /bin and /sbin utilities (along with a few in the similar /usr dirs (such as ldd, nm, and a small editor like nano).

      Modern HDDs have oodles of space. Wasting a few extra megs in exchange for an almost-worst-case recoverable installation seems like a no-brainer to me.

      Of course, I can (and do) install exactly such statically linked utils as my first task after a new install, but I shouldn't need to... Not to mention, many of the basic Linux programs take a whole lot more than just passing a "--enable-static" to the configure script or passing in an "LDFLAGS=-static".
    • Re:My ones (Score:4, Funny)

      by LocoMan ( 744414 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:35PM (#13381148) Homepage
      One funny we had was back when my family had a net cafe and I did some tech service there. One woman called in saying that her computer kept eating her disks, so I told her to bring it in (I was rather curious about it).

      Turns out her case was one of those that has the floppy sized hole and the actual drive goes on the inside... except that her computer had no drive, so she would put the disks in and they fell into the case. I found 19 disks inside of it.

      I was rather hard for my and my brother to keep a straight face until we were done fixing it (taking the disks out, selling and installing a floppy drive) and she was out of the store.. :)
  • by TurdTapper ( 608491 ) * <seldonsplan@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:27AM (#13379778) Journal
    One man became so mad with his malfunctioning laptop computer, he threw it into the toilet and flushed a couple of times.

    It must have had problems dumping his log file. It was probably stuck in the backside cache...
    • by Shaper_pmp ( 825142 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:31AM (#13379835)
      Yeah. It's terrible when you down't have the bandwidth for a big download.
      • by stupid_is ( 716292 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:02PM (#13380142) Homepage
        Particularly when it's streaming media

      • by TheJorge ( 713680 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:06PM (#13380853)
        A little off topic, but that reminds me of my first job out of college-- giant corporation, tons of phb's running around. Our app had a database backend, and for accounting reasons it needed to be dumped to a file from time to time so some other phb's could go through it if something went wrong.

        It started out mild, using the common phrase "taking a dump of the database." Of course, I found this funny, but it escalated.

        I'd come into work and have my boss ask, "Would you take a dump this morning before you get started on ...?" Or someone would poke their head in my office and tell me pointblank, "I just took a dump, and ..." I had incredible difficulty keeping my mind on whatever people were saying and not just cracking up, particularly people 30 years older than me.

        The end-all comment was in a meeting when we were told, "Managment wanted me to let you all know that we're not taking enough dumps. Every day, each of us needs to be sure to take at least one dump..."

        I still wonder if anyone else found it as funny as I did.
    • Unfortunately, he was unable to flush his entire cache... ~CYD
    • by Alex P Keaton in da ( 882660 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:30PM (#13380453) Homepage
      My personal favorite- Whenever I transport a CRT monitor, I use the seat belt to hold it. It works really well actually.
      Long story short- don't do this with your gf's jeep, with no doors and with only a lap belt with no shoulder harness. I left an expensive (at the time) monitor in pieces in the middle of an intersection after a particularly quick turn.
  • Dull dull dull (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MullerMn ( 526350 ) * <andy AT andrewarbon DOT co DOT uk> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:27AM (#13379779) Homepage
    Not to sound like a miserable bastard, but exactly which of these are supposed to be funny? This article is really lame, uninformative and about as funny as colon cancer.

    The first item on the list takes the piss out of some guy for putting a HD in the freezer in an attempt to get it to work, when that is well known for sometimes working in temporarily resuscitating dead drives, if the death is due to a mechanical fault.

    Also, the link for page two seems to keep taking me back to the first page in Firefox.

    <insert misc comment about /. going downhill>

    Bah. Humbug.
  • by justforaday ( 560408 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:28AM (#13379788)
    Remember that time when Taco tried to revamp the slashdot login system and none of the stories had comments for like half a day? Ahhh, memories...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:28AM (#13379790)
    This is a Commodore 64 user I knew. He got around to reading some computer books, and remembered the phrase "you must format a diskette before you use it". Guess what he did first when he decided to use a commercial program that was on a diskette?
    • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:20PM (#13380314) Homepage
      Speaking of disk misuse, I remember these classics (IIRC, supposedly from Sierra's tech-support hotline):
      • A young man called complaining that his computer wouldn't let him insert any more disks. He was installing a game that had several disks, and after installing everything from disk 1, the install program had prompted him to "insert disk 2". He did so, but without first removing disk 1. After getting three disks 2 and a half disks in, he called tech support.
      • Someone called claiming that the 3.5" floppy disks didn't work. The caller complained that he had inserted the first floppy disk into the drive and typed "install" just like the directions said, but it kept giving him error messages about how the disk was not found. After talking a bit, the caller admitted that the one part of the process that concerned him was, he thought it was awfully difficult to get the floppy disks out of those hard cases they come in.
  • Beer (Score:5, Funny)

    by kevin_conaway ( 585204 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:28AM (#13379796) Homepage
    Beer and keyboards don't mix. I spilled nearly a pint on mine and its tough working with it now. I won't give it up because its one of those old IBM [dansdata.com] keyboards and I just love it. But man its tough typing without arrow keys, a backspace and some letters. Reminds me of that Simpsons bit:

    Marge: You know Homer, the "E" doesn't work on that typewriter

    Homer: We don't need no stinkin' "E"! Ok, "Food Box: Go or No Go" by Homer..no, Earl..no, Bill Simpson!
    • Re:Beer (Score:3, Informative)

      Close, but here's the actual quote:

      Marge: You know, Homey, the E doesn't work on that typewriter.

      Homer: We don't need no stinkin' E! "Restaurant Review". No. "Eatery Evaluation". No. Ah! "Food Box"! "Go or no go, by Homer...". No. "Earl...". No. "Bill Simpson"!

    • You can fix that (Score:3, Informative)

      by Mongoose ( 8480 )
      I have a beloved Playstation 2 USB kb, which is nearly impossible to replace now. I got coke ( very acidic ) spilled on it and lost all but a few keys.

      How do I fix it? Simple, I bought a conductive pen off amazon.com and retraced all the bad traces. You really need to clean with alcohol a lot to make sure you got all that coke off first. It also helps if you have a multimeter to figure out what needs to be retraced and save time. Everyone should have 3-4 multimeters lying around. =)
    • Re:Beer - cleanup (Score:3, Interesting)

      by saskboy ( 600063 )
      You could try pouring distilled water into the keyboard, while it's unplugged naturally, and let it sit for a while then drain it. It should remove the stickiness, and not leave any residue or rust the connections if you're fortunate.
  • my mishap (Score:5, Funny)

    by matt4077 ( 581118 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:28AM (#13379798) Homepage
    It's software, not hardware, but this happened to me at 4 am, 4 hours before the launch of a very important project. I had just spend 6 hours importing old data into new software and wanted to delete the default User:

    Delete from Users; where ID=1;

  • by daniil ( 775990 ) <evilbj8rn@hotmail.com> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:29AM (#13379805) Journal
    I really would have expected Taco's story to be about "the one time we updated Slashdot..."
  • My best... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `reggoh.gip'> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:32AM (#13379851) Journal
    $Airline is on the brink of bankrupcy, and owes a friend close to $50,000. My friend is just about to write-it off.

    One day, frantic call from my friend: "can you come with me to $AIRPORT, $AIRLINE's mac is down (I was the Mac expert then). Seems that $AIRLINE is running it's whole fleet management software on ONE computer.

    We get there, and the VICE-PRESIDENT OF FINANCE is waiting for us at the receptionist desk. He hands my friend a $50,000 cheque!!! We go look at the macintosh, and I cannot do anything, the hard-disk is totally molten...

    We get out of the airport and rush to the bank to have the cheque certified.

    The next day, $AIRLINE filed for bankrupcy...

    • Re:My best... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      . . .and because your friend was an unsecured creditor, he promptly got to write a check for $50,000.00 to the Bankrutpcy Trustee because that was a PREFERENTIAL TRANSFER and therefore not legal under bankruptcy law (in the US at least).

      The unique spelling of "check" - i.e. "cheque" would suggest this took place outside of US Bankruptcy jursidiction.

  • by ThinkFr33ly ( 902481 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:32AM (#13379852)
    When I was 12 or so I bought a 2400 Bps internal modem for my Compuadd 486 SX25.

    I had no idea what I was doing so I called up the Hayes support line. I told the support guy I wanted to install my new modem but needed help.

    He asked me if I had my computer's case off, to which I replied yes. He then told me to go ahead and plug the modem into one of the free slots.

    Zap! OUCH! Poof!

    He neglected to tell me to turn off the computer.

    Hey, I was 12... leave me alone.

    For those of you who are worried, some how, both the computer and the modem survived and I eventually got it installed and working. :)
    • Hehe, that reminds me the time when I wanted to upgrade the Hard disk of my fathers computer, I was like 13 or something.

      I dit everything "almost" ok, unplug IDE cable, unplug DC cable, take out old HD and install new HD... everything smooth

      After that I decided to install the old HD as a slave disk, again just install HD, plug IDE and plug DC cables...

      Then, turn on the computer and whoops, old CD not working... after trying with some jumpers configurations and *here i go* different way of connecting the IDE
      • Now, the only detail I missed so far is that that disk contained nothing less than my fathers PhD thesis =oS.

        Just what is it about theses that inspires people to never back them up? The Murphy Field around those things must be tremendous!

        Fortunately, for me, my father had backup of his thesis in floppy disks ...

        Wow. He must be the only one to ever do that. I'm impressed.

  • by Neck_of_the_Woods ( 305788 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:33AM (#13379866) Journal
    While working outside on my laptop in Key West some kids scared up the wild rosters that live there. Airborne and over my laptop he shat a full on metric ton of bird juice onto my laptop.

    I was cleaning roster shat out of my keyboard for the next 2 weeks. Smelled good as well. At least it was not in my beer I guess.

  • Oh ho ho! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:34AM (#13379872) Journal
    My best mishap was installing the alpha video driver on an NT 3.51 box thinking that it was just an alpha driver. Of course since this Alpha meant DEC and this was an x86 box, the server barfed pretty hard.
    Ha ha ha! Oh, Taco! You and your hi-larious shenanigans.
  • Beer + Keyboard (Score:4, Interesting)

    by markmcb ( 855750 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:36AM (#13379890) Homepage
    I don't know about that article being funny, but I knew a guy in colleg who woke up to a random dude pissing in his keyboard. I'm not sure if the keyboard was ruined, but I do know that it was trashed (much like the random dude). Cops were involved and the guy ended up having to buy a whole new system for my friend. So if you're in college and you're not locking your dorm room door, you might want to put a towel or something over your keyboard at night.
  • by The Fun Guy ( 21791 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:37AM (#13379899) Homepage Journal
    Having your webserver shine briefly in the ultraviolet range before slumping in a heap of molten slag because you got linked on the front page of Slashdot.
  • by skroz ( 7870 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:39AM (#13379924) Homepage
    The worst/oddest I've seen went something like this:

    1. Someone ran rsync with -r at the end, intending to do something recursive. This option was treated as an argument, causing a file called -r to be created. This was done in / on an HP-UX workstation.

    2. Two years later, someone wrote a script to be run from cron that would run as root then change to a directory containing data files, erase them, and create new ones. This directory of data files was NFS mounted on the workstation in 1 above. Many, many other filesystems were also mounted on this workstation, all rw, all as root.

    3. Some time after that, someone rebooted the workstation. Not All of the NFS mounts came up, so when the script in 2 ran as root and did not check to make sure the destination directory existed, it was not able to cd and ran in /

    4. The script executed "rm -f *", intending to delete the data files. Unfortunately, the file called -r was still in / and was included in the argument list. Rm of course interpreted this as an option, so the command became "rm -f -r (everything else in /.)"

    5. 3 and 4 happened on a saturday night when no one was around, so no one noticed all of the data disappearing until Monday, when it was all gone.

    6. Several people had a very, very long day. Actually, several long days. A few weeks, actually.

    Can you count the number of gross and avoidable administration mistakes, boys and girls?
    • Can you count the number of gross and avoidable administration mistakes, boys and girls?

      Is the answer, one... not running Microsoft Windows?

      Bye karma... it was nice to know you.
    • A coworker of mine did a similar thing on a production machine with rpmbuild. This was about 9 or ten years ago, but I think the command they used was something like this:

      rpmbuild -bb --build-root / specfile

      Don't ever use the --build-root switch unless you really know what you are doing. The build-root directory is a temporary directory where the package will be built and installed before it is packaged up into an RPM. The first thing RPM does is to clear the build-root directory to make sure there are

    • I know a Novell admin who did basically the same thing. Some system he had to cope with generated a large volume of log output. He wrote a DOS batch script to clean the directory once per day. This ran without a problem for several years.

      One day the system was upgraded and the old directory structure changed. Naturally this meant the 'cd' command in that now old and forgotten daily batch job failed, yet the recursive 'del' command functioned perfectly. Goodbye volume contents, hello backup tapes.

      Can yo
    • Yes.

      1. Always check the syntax of your commands before executing them. 'man rsync' would have been helpful.

      2. Don't run things in '/' as root unless you need to. (Hint: most of the time, you don't need to)

      3. Don't export filesystems as rw with root squash turned off unless absolutely necessary (hint: most times it's not necessary)

      4. If you are going to mount things via NFS, add them to the fstab.

      5. Add some error checking in your scripts. Changing from

      cd /foo
      rm -f *


      cd /foo && rm -f *

  • by Alizarin Erythrosin ( 457981 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:40AM (#13379931)
    I lost all the data on an old hard drive once... after I beat the shit out of it with a hammer.

    It was a dying drive, didn't need it anymore. So we had fun! The platters made a nice spiral in the air after I broke the spindle off...
  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:43AM (#13379956) Journal

    I have to agree with first posters... these aren't very good stories. But, thinking maybe it's phishing for better stories, I'll byte:

    I once created an extremely complex script, crafted lovingly to do something at the time I'm sure I thought important. As always I incrememtally built and tested, assuring myself of one more self-anointed masterpiece. Finally, finished, as an afterthought...

    I inserted a variable to point to a directory node below which I would clean up all of my work (even though I knew I had no need for the variable and would never tweak it). It was such a simple addition. No need to test.

    Fired up the script, it ran a couple of seconds, I was prepared to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Hmmmm, I don't remember ANY of the test runs running so long. Why is the hard drive light flickering so much? And why still? And why so long?...

    Yeah, the

    rm -fr c:/$CleanupDir (I was using MKS Toolkit in a windows environment)

    command worked perfectly. Except I defined the variable initially as: cleanupdir=dirname

    So, everything was lost except for the frigging "masterpiece".

    Undaunted, (I'm no idiot, golllll!), I calmly inserted the QIC backup tape with my prerun backup.

    No, wait!, I'll not be caught with that error again! I quickly edited the only remaining file in my tree of files, the offending script and smugly fixed the rogue spelling. I hadn't been working in this industry this long without knowing how to take safeguards!

    Now, twenty minutes later, my script fixed... my files restored... let's try this again. Yeah... something about the chronology of fixing the script, then restoring the broken version over it from the backup tape. At least I proved the error was replicatable. So, I am an idiot afterall!

    disclaimer: this happened over ten years ago, so I'm a bit short on exact detail of the snafu, but it really did happen. And, even though I repeated my idiocy, the fact I had the backup tape at all with only the one error to fix in the script saved my butt... so not all was lost in the lunacy.

  • by Freexe ( 717562 ) <serrkr@tznvy.pbz> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:44AM (#13379975) Homepage
    My favouriate incident was when my druken friend decided to try and have a drink out of my watercooling setup.

    After he pulled the pipe out of the pump I distinctly remember 'hearing' the sound of water hitting a fan followed by 'seeing' that the pump was pushing water upwards-straight into my graphics card fan which was very effectively 'flicking' water over the rest of the PC.

    PCs are hard to break, and after 2 days drying out it worked fine.

    NB: this happened three times and after the third time and the purchase of my x800 xt I moved back to fans

  • by S.O.B. ( 136083 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:47AM (#13380008)
    When I was in university (1985-88) I worked in the computer lab and my buddy and I were asked to take a look at one of the secretary's PC that had a floppy drive that was acting up.

    Rather than try to diagnose the problem at her desk we usually just replaced the drive and checked it out back at the lab. We removed the existing drive and plugged in the replacement. Because the floppy mounting was rather tedious we didn't completely mount it until we were sure it worked so my buddy held on to it while I powered up the machine.

    Now what I haven't mentioned was that the power plugs in this particular brand of PC did not have a "notch" on them like modern PCs and we weren't paying attention to it so when we plugged in the drive we put the power plug on backwards.

    When we powered up the machine smoke began pouring out of the floppy drive as my friend began screaming, "Turn it off, turn it off!".

    When we realized our mistake we got a new drive and installed it correctly. When we left, the secretary (already cautious of computers) was now almost terrified by the PC on her desk.
  • by shawnce ( 146129 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:01PM (#13380130) Homepage
    My personal funniest mishap was the day I learn ice cream and laser writers don't mix. I was about 12 at the time I think and we had just gotten a LaserWriter and Macintosh 512 at home.

    I was working on my science fair project on that system (best darn looking presentation seen at a science fair in those days) while licking away at a vanilla ice cream cone I had (flat bottom cone). I set my cone down on the top of the printer and got distracted (when outside to play some bball I think).

    I came back 2 hours later to find the ice cream cone had collapsed and done a noise dive into the paper feed area.

    My parents well... ...lets just say from that day forth the printer always made a funny gear grinding sound but it still keep printing for several years until it was upgraded... about the time I was allowed to go outside and play again IIRC.
  • by DarthVain ( 724186 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:06PM (#13380182)
    OK this story isn't exactly technical nor was it that costly, but it is true and stupid and kinda funny.

    A few years back when I was into doing computer mods, I had recently put together what I though was a pretty great rig, a BP6 with dullie 433mhz overclocked to 500mhz each, with dual golden orbs, 16mb voodoo card, etc... so this was done awhile ago...

    Anyway after finishing my master piece, I notice it was housed in a beige box. This simple would not do! So I spend a lot of time designing a custom case design. It involved special glossy paint, three sepreate masking jobs to have overlaying geometric inverse colors (Silver and Black mostly), and fitting my computer handle (that I have used for the last, oh 15 years or so) into the design also inversing the lettering as it crossed geometric boundries (only one). It also took several coats. Anyway very complex and well thought out (or so I thought).

    I was all proud of my rig, and when one of buddies came over I made sure to show it off.

    His ONLY comment was 'Who is "DartVain"'?
  • by Wonko ( 15033 ) <thehead@patshead.com> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:08PM (#13380206) Homepage Journal

    I do not know if this is actually a mishap or not, but it is one of my favorite stories. Sometime about 10 years or so ago, during high school, a friend of mine was building a computer. I do not actually recall if it was for himself or not, but I believe it was a 486 25 or 33 mhz or so.

    He just couldn't get it to work at all, and asked if I could stop by and help him out. When I got there, the machine would power up, and the power supply fan was spinning just fine.

    I recall I started with easy things like reseating the memory, reseating ISA cards... When none of that worked, I disassembled the whole thing and put it back together. Same symptoms as before. He tried similar things, same problems.

    I was sitting staring at the machine... And I saw the problem. I told him I knew exactly what was wrong, but I told him I shouldn't tell him, and I should let him find it himself.

    I did end up telling him... The power supply voltage was set to 220 instead of 110...

  • by alan_dershowitz ( 586542 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:15PM (#13380267)
    Working tech support, guy dumps entire glass of Orange juice into his IBM Thinkpad. It won't boot, and he wants me to fix it over the PHONE. He was obviously scared to death to tell his boss he trashed a 2K dollar notebook. When he FINALLY sent it in, it took two people to yank the battery, as it was glued in place with crusty orange juice

    Again, tech support. Salesman's laptop comes in won't boot. Reason: buggy porno screen saver. We remind scared, contrite salesman "not to install unapproved software on company machines."

    Worked in a power plant for a few years. Tape drive caught on fire from being caked with coal dust. While it was still flaming, I grabbed the drive by the parallel cable and whipped it into the middle of the parking lot where it could burn without catching anything else on fire.

    Also in the power plant. Guy calls in to say his monitor is "rainbowy". Turns out the CPU underneath the monitor is filled with coal dust which clogged all the fans. The CPU was burning hot and was cooking the monitor. I literally burned my hand on the CPU case.

    We had a support contract with HP, who was charging us upwards of 100 dollars for replacement network cards (this was years ago, but was still excessive.) We were testing some machines with 3Com cards we got at Best Buy, even though if HP found out, they wouldn't support those machines. One day, the ENTIRE network goes down. Nothing will bring it back up, until someone happens to yank the power strip connected to the new machine with a 3Com network card in it. The network IMMEDIATELY comes back up. I don't know why a 3Com network card would bring down an entire network, but it DID.

    This isn't a mishap, at least not for me. I was initially hired to be an operator on the company's HP-3000. Within about a week, I had written automated scripts to literally do 90% of my job. The rest of the time I just looked at web pages and slept. I figured out that I could lie down by my desk with a screwdriver and sleep on the floor by my CPU. If anyone came by, I just started removing screws from my CPU case like I was working on it. I was behind two locked doors, so I had plenty of time to react when I heard the door latch. I loved that job. The computer mishap here was that they were paying me.
  • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:17PM (#13380285)
    A few years back we had an intern in named Dave. Not a very bright fellow, I might add. We tasked him with installing Linux, Windows and other software onto various desktops we use around the office. At one point he came across a desktop with a faulty hard drive.

    For some reason he thought he could repair it, and so he proceeded to open the hard drive up. None of us were there to witness it directly, but somehow he managed to get the very strong magnets close to his penis. They stuck together, crushing a portion of of the bottom of his manhood.

    So he rushed in, blood all over and crying, and we were dumbfounded. We got him to the hospital, and then we couldn't help but have a good laugh over his folly. He returned for about a week or so after he recovered, but left soon after that.

  • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:26PM (#13380393) Journal
    No, it's not one of my cockups.

    However, this is a very interesting cockup, and the author wrote the story well:

    Mike O'Brien
    The Aerospace Corporation
    Subj: Just extracted this from the WAR_STORIES notefile. Long but amusing.

    VAXen, my children, just don't belong some places. In
    my business, I am frequently called by small sites
    and startups having VAX problems. So when a friend of
    mine in an Extremely Large Financial Institution
    (ELFI) called me one day to ask for help, I was
    intrigued because this outfit is a really major VAX
    user - they have several large herds of VAXen - and
    plenty of sharp VAXherds to take care of them.

    So I went to see what sort of an ELFI mess they had
    gotten into. It seems they had shoved a small 750
    with two RA60's running a single application, PC
    style, into a data center with two IBM 3090's and
    just about all the rest of the disk drives in the
    world. The computer room was so big it had three
    street addresses. The operators had only IBM
    experience and, to quote my friend, they were having
    "a little trouble adjusting to the VAX", were a bit
    hostile towards it and probably needed some help with
    system management. Hmmm, Hostility... Sigh.

    Well, I thought it was pretty ridiculous for an
    outfit with all that VAX muscle elsewhere to isolate
    a dinky old 750 in their Big Blue Country, and said
    so bluntly. But my friend patiently explained that
    although small, it was an "extremely sensitive and
    confidential application." It seems that the 750 had
    originally been properly clustered with the rest of a
    herd and in the care of one of their best VAXherds.
    But the trouble started when the Chief User went to
    visit his computer and its

  • by CProgrammer98 ( 240351 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:36PM (#13380527) Homepage
    (Disclaimer: I have built dozens of systems and am normally very competent)

    OK, this was very late (2:0am) and I was EXTREMELY tired - DON'T mess inside pcs at 2:00am, especially when tired...

    I decided to install my shiny new Zalman Super flower cooler [quietpc.com] into the kids computer as it was in the living room and quite loud. I had to remove the memory to install the cooler, which I did without a problem. When I was re-installing the memory, I noticed that the cooler fins were fouling one of the memory sticks, in fact I had to kinda bend some of the fins out the way to get the memory in. Somehow, the fact that the memory was touching the cooler fins didn't register as being significant...

    I turned on, and BANG!

    OMG! I realised what a VERY stupid thing I had just done...

    What did I do next?

    well, I had to determine what parts had blown...

      Memory? CPU? Mobo? so of course, I decided to test the easiest thing first, so....

    I took the memory stick out that had been touching the fins..... and installed it into my primary computer!!! (All rational thought had obviosuly looong gone!)

    I turned on my main machine - nothing. OK, I thought, that memory is bad. I'll put the original memory back in my primary machine...

    Turned on, NOTHING!

    At this point, the full horror of what VERY VERY VERY stupid things I had just done hit me. I looked closely at the memory I blew up, and there was an actual hole burned in it and several melted tracks...

    I ended up replaced two motherboards, two cpus and 4 memory sticks - I just didn't know what parts were safe and didn't want to risk blowing anything else up. I know that I definetley killed the CPU, memory and mobo on the first computer, as each had melty-burney bits on them - in fact, there was quite an impressive hole in the cpu!

    The zalman ended up in the trash too...

    Upside was I got two much faster systems. It was a very expensive mistake.
  • by thewiz ( 24994 ) * on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:00PM (#13380802)
    On one job I was approached by a programmer who calmly said he was having problems with his monitor. As I approached his cube, there was black smoke pouring out of the back of the monitor and the top of the monitor was on fire. After grabbing an extinguisher, unplugging the monitor and putting the fire out, I found out he had put a blanket on top of the monitor to "keep the dust out".

    At another job, I had spent a couple of weeks installing fiber optic routers and cabling to all of my servers. Turned it all on, configured the networking, and was congradulated by my boss for a job well done. Less than 24 hours later, I was showing the higher ups the new hardware when we heard a cracking noise and smoke came rolling out of the cabinet with the routers in it. After putting out the fire we found that an old IBM mainframe (Model 3033) we were going to remove soon was to blame. The bottom of the coolant reservoir had rusted out and dumped a few hundred gallons of water under our computer room floor. The water pooled under the router cabinet and shorted out the socket that the cabinet PDU was plugged into. We later found out that the spot that the cabinet was placed over was originally going to have a drain there that was omitted during construction. That was a quick $100,000 down the drain (pardon the pun).
  • by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:07PM (#13380867) Homepage
    My personal best was while I was the chief operator/administrator of a Data General MV/9600.

    I loved the hell out of that machine, even wrote some very nice system utilities using the CLI. But over the years the system went from async terminals to everything over TCP/IP using the Pacer terminal emulator on a Mac.

    But there still were a few async connections to things like DG printers, etc. Of course over the years nobody bothered to remove out of service cables or wires so the back of the machine was a literal copper rats nest.

    One day I decide I'm going to clean the mess up. As I'm pulling old wire out I suddenly hear the console beeping. Beeping on those consoles wasn't generally a good thing. I look around the corner at the screen and see "volume hansel dismounted" followed by every other system volume. Uh oh!

    I go around front to the SCSI array and see the power is off. Toggle the switch, nothing. Around to the back and the breaker isn't tripped. Power cord is plugged in, etc.

    Now the boss comes flying into the computer room. You can tell he's upset by the giant red knot that appears in his forehead whenever he's stressed or angry.

    Turns out the power was connected via a twist-lock Hubbel connector. Somehow I had backed it off a half twist which was enough to break current to the device.

    Once I got power back on I just re-mounted all the volumes. Of course the outage had tanked a couple of jobs running so I caught flak for that.
  • by WireRider ( 105359 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:11PM (#13380917)
    It's the mid-90's, and I'm a developer with one of three vendors collaborating on providing a large US bank with a US-wide demographics database (a precursor to a modern CRM). The system was Unix-based, and pretty distributed for its time (8 front-ends, 8 back-ends, and 3 dedicated routing/replication servers in the middle).

    It's the first morning of the pilot-to-production phase, and we're all sitting in the datacentre at our terminals, bringing the whole system online for the first time. I'm personally familiar with PC-based terminal emulators, not the fancy X-Windows stations that the client has on their premises. So, once we get everything finally up and running (and it's taken us about 2 1/2 years to get here from concept stage), I start exploring the settings on my X-Windows station. (Anybody remember CDE, and how... bizzare it is to configure, contrasted with KDE or Gnome?)

    I'm fiddling around with settings, trying to create application shortcuts to fire up sessions with servers just the way I like, when at one point I get the message that a reboot is required for changes to take effect.

    I issued the standard "sync; sync; shutdown -r now" command -- and just after I hit I realized that I had been typing into an xterm session ON ONE OF THE BACK-END SERVERS -- not the local X-station!

    Well. The backend server goes down, and when the event-collector picks up the unavailability, it starts up alarms and red flashing lights (I kid you not), and also starts paging people (including myself, ironically).

    I'm stunned, and terrified, for I've just brought down a system that had been operational for only 3 hours after being in development for 2 1/2 years.

    We eventually get the server back up and running, and afterwards, the ProjMgr (from the prime vendor) drifts over to me and quietly mentions that I had a strange expression on my face earlier that day. We look at each other, and then he says it "must've been a s/w fault somewhere" before wandering off knowingly. (Whew!....)

    Moral of the story #1: NEVER work in root/superuser accounts when you don't absolutely need to.

    Moral #2: Use color-coded xterms to indicate which systems & what access-levels you are working with!
  • by aquatone282 ( 905179 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:16PM (#13380978)

    Twenty-or-so years ago, I was a young airman maintaining the Transportable Ground Intercept Facility-II (TGIF-II) at Metro Tango, a site located about 10 klicks north of the former Hahn Air Base (now Frankfurt-Hahn International Airport) in Germany. TGIF-II was used by Air Force and Army intelligence operators to intercept communications from the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. The operators sat at "collection positions," computer keyboards used to "gist" (transcribe in shorthand) the transmissions they listened to through their headsets.

    One morning, as the operators entered the facility and began their pre-mission checks, an Army E-4 sat down at Position 11, close to our places at the maintenance terminal. He didn't look well, and sure enough, within a few minutes he promptly barfed his breakfast onto the keyboard in front of him.

    He apologized and we said hey, no problem, get yourself to sick call dude and we'll clean up the mess. Thanks to mil-spec, the WWW III-grade circuit board under the keypad only required a quick rinse in the sink and a few hours to air-dry before it was reinstalled and the position checked good.

    One of our civilian contractors was ex-Army, and when we told him the story, he got pissed and said "That guy did it on purpose - he's trying to get kicked out." We looked at the contractor in disbelief. Why the hell would anyone do something like that? But we were Air Force guys and had no clue to what lengths some people will go to escape the Army.

    The next day and another mission, the operators filed into the facility and took their places to begin their pre-mission equipment checks. The same guy sat down at Position 11, looked at the terminal for a minute, and blew chunks into the keyboard. The kicker was the little grin on his face after he deposited his stomach contents into the keyboard.

    The guy apologized again (still with the grin on his face) and excused himself from the facility. We disassembled the keyboard, washed, rinsed, dried and re-installed. To his credit, they guy didn't eat much either morning.

    We don't see the operator for several days, but within a week he returns, sits down at Position 11, and within three minutes regurgitates on the keyboard. This time, we tell him to get the hell out and then we call his duty section. We explain what's happened and tell them since they keep sending the guy back to work, it's THEIR turn to clean the abused circuit board. They send a warrant officer (I guess he was the only technician-type the Army had) to whom we hand over the circuit board.

    The next time I see the E-4, he's on the site's Goon Squad, folks assigned to jobs outside the compound while they await administrative or disciplinary action. He's driving the military-issue Volkswagen 9-passenger van used to shuttle workers between the site and an overflow parking lot a quarter mile down the road. It's winter, there's snow on the roads, and my boss, an Air Force master sergeant, and I are on our way to the main base to run errands on our lunch hour. The E-4 slams the van into gear, hits the gas, and power-slides down the small two-lane road, fishtailing back and forth as my boss yells at him to stop. I'm sitting in the back seat and in the rear view mirror I can see that little grin on the E-4's face.

    Looks like our contractor was right after all. . .

  • by hipsterdufus ( 42989 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:17PM (#13380986)
    Back in the day, our high school allowed us to take home a Apple IIe on weekends. My friend took one home and called me a few hours later saying he couldn't get it to work after a while. We were 17 at the time, by the way. I drove over to have a look since I was the whiz kid and he was the wannabe. I couldn't get it to boot either, they booted off the floppy drive. I put in a custom boot disk I built and tried it, it didn't work. I pulled out my 5.25" disk and looked at it. It was coated with something and looked wet. I asked my buddy why this would be, his answer: "Well, I got it home and was playing Castle Wolfenstien, and the drive was squeaking pretty loudly, so I just opened the drive and shot a blast of WD-40 into it to quiet it down. It stopped the noise, but now it won't boot."

    Ahh, the memories.
  • by skintigh2 ( 456496 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:19PM (#13381007)
    That was the worst, lamest, most pathetic computer list I have ever read. That's something my wife would forward (mechanical engineer).

    Here's a much better story: my inlaws called in yet another computer-induced panic. Sis was crying, mom locked herself in the bedroom, and dad was in a frenzy yelling at us about his computer and wanting us to come fix it (a four hour drive). The problem was that the computer would not print and the home phone stopped working. We politely told him that we weren't going to travel 8 hours to fix his printer, and he really needed to call the phone company about his phone line.

    2 days later the phone guy showed up and unplugged the printer's USB cable from the phone jack.
  • by stonewolf ( 234392 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:40PM (#13381203) Homepage
    I originally heard this story from Art during a lull in a seminar on programming implementation when he was a visiting professor at the UofU. It is the best story I ever heard for proving than no good deed goes unpunished. It is also, the funniest computer story I have ever heard.


    Read on....

    Subject: Always Mount a Scratch Monkey

    Date: Wednesday, 3 September 1986 16:46-EDT
    From: "Art Evans"
    To: Risks@CSL.SRI.COM

    In another forum that I follow, one corespondent always adds the comment

            Always Mount a Scratch Monkey

    after his signature. In response to a request for explanation, he replied somewhat as follows. Since I'm reproducing without permission,
    I have disguised a few things.

    My friend Bud used to be the intercept man at a computer vendor for calls when an irate customer called. Seems one day Bud was sitting at his desk when the phone rang.

            Bud: Hello. Voice: YOU KILLED MABEL!!
            B: Excuse me? V: YOU KILLED MABEL!!

    This went on for a couple of minutes and Bud was getting nowhere, so he decided to alter his approach to the customer.


    Well to avoid making a long story even longer, I will abbreviate what had happened. The customer was a Biologist at the University of Blah-de-blah, and he had one of our computers that controlled gas mixtures that Mabel (the monkey) breathed. Now Mabel was not your ordinary monkey. The University had spent years teaching Mabel to swim, and they were studying the effects that different gas mixtures had on her physiology. It turns out that the repair folks had just gotten a new Calibrated Power Supply (used to calibrate analog equipment), and at their first opportunity decided to calibrate the D/A converters in that computer. This changed some of the gas mixtures and poor Mabel was asphyxiated. Well Bud then called the branch manager for the repair folks:

            Manager: Hello
            B: This is Bud, I heard you did a PM at the University of
            M: Yes, we really performed a complete PM. What can I do
                    for You?
            B: Can You Swim?

    The moral is, of course, that you should always mount a scratch monkey.

    There are several morals here related to risks in use of computers. Examples include, "If it ain't broken, don't fix it." However, the cautious philosophical approach implied by "always mount a scratch monkey" says a lot that we should keep in mind.

    Art Evans
    Tartan Labs

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller