...making Linux just a little more fun!

<-- prev

The Foolish Things We Do With Our Computers

By Ben Okopnik

"Foolish Things" is a now-and-again compilation that we run based on our readers' input; once we have several of them assembled in one place, we get to share them with all of you. If you enjoy reading these cautionary tales of woe, proud stories of triumph, and just plain weird and fun things that happen between humans and silicon, that's great; if you have some to share so that others may enjoy them, even better. Please send them to .

[ You can even tell us that it happened to A Friend of Yours, and we'll believe you. ]

-- Ben

Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate

[ Name withheld by request ]

...hold on to your chair, and put on whatever you need to survive this. Its not funny, unless you weren't there, and I wasn't.

Back in 1990.

Seriously, seat belts required. And crash helmets. No, really.

Back in 1990 I was a computer tech guy at a small university campus.

We were switching over from all 5.25 inch drives to some machines having only 3.5 inch drives, with a few having that old garbagey (if that's a word) combo floppy drive. Two half-height drives, one a 5.25 and the other 3.5, all one unit. And a few 'legacy' PCs with a 5.25 inch floppy drive in them. Some had both sizes of floppy drives, as a separate unit. A total of 6 computers.

It's finals week, when we don't have to provide tech support to the other students. Why yes, we had finals too.

So, I'm walking down the hallway and one of the other computer lab guys walks out of the computer room just as I walk past.

Know what the melting point of titanium is? I don't, but his face must have beeen giving off that much heat. To use the phrase 'he was livid' would be a major understatement.

He said to me, between clinched teeth, "Don't ask!"

Brrr... or high temperature frying, takes your pick.

I journey off to class, and try not to think of the horrors that he had just gone through.

By the next day he had calmed down enough to tell me.

Due to the huge numbers of students, about 200, trying to use the 6 computers, they had to take turns printing. Some had printers at home, and some didn't. Many still had 5.25 inch floppy drives at home, and no printer.

One machine with a 5.25 inch floppy drive was kept available, just for printouts.

The lab guy being there for the other students that night is the one who should be given a medal. For not harming anyone. He repeatedly said, as each new person walked into that room, that each person would have to wait their turn to do their printout and take it to class.

One bright student, not wanting to wait for the one 5.25 floppy drive computer to become available... folded their 5.25 inch floppy, and stuck it in the 3.5 floppy drive machine that was available for use.

Yes, folded it in half!

of course, it stuck.

Billy had to get a pair of needle-nose pliers to carefully get the floppy out and then test the read/write heads, to see if they were broken.

There were two other people in line waiting to do their printouts on their 5.25 floppies, for their final term papers.

After Billy spoke a few choice words about the lack of usefulness of folding a floppy and the miscreant who folded it blamed Billy for lost homework, the next two came to a startling conclusion.

If folding it is bad, cutting it to fit is okay.

You can stop shaking and/or laughing now. Yes, that was their next thought. Scary, isn't it? Didn't ask Billy. They just got out a pair of scissors and trimmed the 5.25 floppies they had.

Yes, they cut their 5.25 floppies to fit the 3.5 inch floppy drive. Cut it to fit.... eekkkk. Sorry, I'm screaming on the inside.

All three of the miscreants blamed Billy for the loss of their homework. Our boss told Billy later to not worry about it.

They stormed out of the computer room, and went off to class.

Backups you ask? They didn't have any, and those papers were one-fourth or one-half of their final grade.

Just a few short minutes later, I walked by.

And the rest was history.

Oh, wanna guess what their major was?

Two of them were undergrad Applied Computer Science majors, and the other was a grad student, working on his Master's in Applied Computer Science. I.e., programmers.

I was appalled. That's my major! But I never did anything like that to a poor defenseless floppy. Dropped books on them yes, but never folded nor cut them.

A Doggone Chew-tastraphe

Steve Brown

My wife and I decided to spend the weekend away to celebrate our wedding anniversary, well she decided, I did as I was told. The children were packed off to Grandma and a dog sitter was arranged, who would ensure that the mutt (don't confuse with the useful software) was thoroughly entertained in our absence.

We had a wonderful time, collected the kids on the way back and piled in to the house to greet our loyal and faithful hound. When we opened the door there was no rushing 'waggy dog', as the children call him, to meet us. He seemed very loathe to come out of his basket at all. I was busy unloading the car when my wife called me in. "Steve", she said in tremulous tone, "you had better sit down." "Why, what's up? Is the dog dead?" "No", she said, "he may not have long to live though - he's chewed your computer!".

I charged in to the dining room where I kept my box, (it's an upgrade - I used to have to sit in the cupboard under the stairs), and my jaw hit the floor. Picture the scene if you will - one keyboard, all the keys removed, partially chewed and placed in a neat pile next to the body (less cord) of the mouse. Printer and modem power supplies, less leads, in a pile next to that. Every single wire, apart from the monitor lead, had been removed from the box and had the connectors/plugs chewed off and discarded.

To add insult to injury, because it was plugged in (but not switched on) the dog had tripped the RCD on the mains, so the freezer contents had thawed out. Absolutely gutted.

We had to take the dog to the vet, as he wasn't well shortly after this, it turns out he had an inflamed colon (there's justice for you) for which the dog-sitter paid the bill, but he wouldn't replace the leads for me, the bar-steward.

I've only just got all my stuff together to repair everything, my wife wouldn't let me sell the dog to make good the damage, I've a sneaky feeling she was quite pleased as I've been sitting with her in the evenings instead of 'that damn computer'. Soon sort that out.

Ooo-ooo that smell/Can't you smell that smell...

Charlie Pearce (from the deepest, darkest edges of Dartmoor, England)

A few years ago I purchased a HP8200 USB CD-rewriter as I had no spare drive bays, and it seemed convenient at the time (though not cheap, that 4x recorder cost ten times as much as a 52x internal one does today!). The drive sat happily on top of that mini-tower until some time after I put the motherboard (along with some extra memory and hard drives) into a larger case, with plenty of spare drive bays.

It struck me that from the outside, the USB CD-writer looked very much like a normal IDE cd drive in a fancy shell.... ever the curious (and with no further research) I took some allen keys to it and took it apart. And as I thought, inside it was just a normal IDE drive with some USB circuitry plugged into it.

So one Sunday afternoon, I unplugged it all and installed the now liberated drive into the spare drive bay - after some fiddling with cables and screws (this ain't a modern case) I made a cup of tea, opened my window to get some air, crossed my fingers and switched the computer back on...

At which point I noticed a strange burning smell... - panicking, I pulled the plug and didn't go near the machine for a few days.

In fact, after a couple of days I was in my back garden speaking to my neighboor when I noticed a small blackened area at the back of their lawn. I enquired as to what it was, "Oh we had a little bonfire there, just to get rid of some garden waste." - when was this I asked?

"Sunday afternoon".

Doh! The next day I went back to my computer, booted it, and both the drive and the rest of machine have worked fine ever since!


picture Ben is the Editor-in-Chief for Linux Gazette and a member of The Answer Gang.

Ben was born in Moscow, Russia in 1962. He became interested in electricity at the tender age of six, promptly demonstrated it by sticking a fork into a socket and starting a fire, and has been falling down technological mineshafts ever since. He has been working with computers since the Elder Days, when they had to be built by soldering parts onto printed circuit boards and programs had to fit into 4k of memory. He would gladly pay good money to any psychologist who can cure him of the recurrent nightmares.

His subsequent experiences include creating software in nearly a dozen languages, network and database maintenance during the approach of a hurricane, and writing articles for publications ranging from sailing magazines to technological journals. After a seven-year Atlantic/Caribbean cruise under sail and passages up and down the East coast of the US, he is currently anchored in St. Augustine, Florida. He works as a technical instructor for Sun Microsystems and a private Open Source consultant/Web developer. His current set of hobbies includes flying, yoga, martial arts, motorcycles, writing, and Roman history; his Palm Pilot is crammed full of alarms, many of which contain exclamation points.

He has been working with Linux since 1997, and credits it with his complete loss of interest in waging nuclear warfare on parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Copyright © 2004, Ben Okopnik. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 104 of Linux Gazette, July 2004

<-- prev